Ompora (Budgam), March 13: Ahmad, 28, was sitting on the banks of a stream with his friends during the 2019 lockdown to pass time. However, he had no idea of what was to come.
As the group of friends talked about life, they rolled cannabis joint. For Ahmad, a non-smoker, this was his first time and soon ecstasy overwhelmed him and before he knew it, he was addicted.
But with time, getting high from smoking cannabis wasn’t fun at all and Ahmad discovered other substances to be in a state of trance including brown sugar and heroin, he recalls.
As his savings and pocket money drained off, he resorted to stealing money from his parents and borrowed from the friends.
He would search for manual labour jobs on Sundays, uproot cannabis plants from local plots and steal poppy seeds. With the growing addiction, the chores for settling it grew tougher as well.
Tired and messed up, Ahmad now wanted to get rid of the addiction and live a normal life again, but that seemed almost impossible until one day he came across a social media post about Fit Youth Club Ompora (FYCO).
In a quest to lead a normal life again, he decided to join the club. Now, after a year at the club, Ahmad satisfactorily talks about his decision about joining the FYCO.
“The people here felt like a family from the first day who helped me to shun the disastrous habit of mine,” Ahmad says with gratitude.
The FYCO, now a household name in Ompora locality and other adjacent areas, started as an idea brainstormed by the senior citizens to counter the growing drug abuse in the locality.
Soon, it manifested in a club with over hundred members including students, professionals, businessmen, educationists and others.
Every morning, the members assemble near the premises of Budgam railway station and perform physical activities under the supervision of Dr. Zahoor, one of the founding members of the FYCO.
Zahoor, who has a PhD in Physical Education, also holds MPED and BPE degrees, teaches as an Assistant Professor at the University of Kashmir.
To retain the interest of its members, the club frequently organizes trekking events in mountainous areas, cycling along different routes, and other activities under the vigil of senior members of the club.
Notwithstanding the absence of a playground in the vicinity, the members have shown dedication in performing the activities at different spots.
Mushtaq Ahmad Malla, an employee at the Railway department, believes that a club like FYCO that focuses on sports and physical fitness is the best way available for locals to counter the drug menace.
The club also holds sessions, where members are made aware of repercussions of drug abuse on human health, rehabilitation programmes for addicts, and an infotainment programme to educate about Kashmir’s rich culture.
However, the club is not helping addicts only. People like Altaf Dar, 55, say he is grateful to be made a part of the group.
From walking around 15-kilometers per day during winters to the daily routine of physical exercises, Dar says he feels “fit and flexible even as younger than my age since I joined the group.”
The young members Umer Jan, Majeed Wani and Asrar Jan say the senior members inspire them to continue with all their dedication.
"We want to give young people a place where they feel supported, motivated, and empowered," says Dr. Zahoor, adding, “We believe that fitness is not just about physical health, but more about mental health."
The workout is tough but the company and brotherly treatment makes the former drug addicts feel comfortable. “This is a judgement-free zone and no one here makes you feel bad about your past,” asserts Sahil*.
[*Some names have been changed inorder to hide the person’s identity]