From personal experience, I know that in Nepal people who use drugs are constantly confronted with stigma and discrimination. I live in a society where drug use is illegal and perceived as evil. But this year I had the chance to see a totally different approach. I participated in the Bridging the Gaps partner forum, which took place in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. We also visited the ‘Princehof’, a place for homeless people, including those who use drugs, in the centre of Amsterdam. It offers shelter, food, needle exchange, and a drug use space.

The differences between what I have seen in Amsterdam and in Nepal are immense. In my country, for instance, there are hardly any services available for people who use drugs, and the existing ones are too expensive. I was amazed by the options of services in Amsterdam: they are like items on a menu from which you can choose what you want. In The Netherlands, people who use drugs are first of all seen as human beings, whereas in South Asia they are generally labelled and treated as secondary citizens. What I have seen in Amsterdam is a dream that is hard to achieve in Nepal – It is all about social acceptance.

I am just an ordinary guy from the streets

My visit to Amsterdam was an eye opener, and inspired me as an activist. I have shared my experiences with my drug use community and relevant networks in Nepal. We came to realise that there is still a lot of work to do in our country, and that we need to simultaneously focus on advocacy and service provision for people who use drugs. A challenge is that the voices of key populations are barely heard in Nepal, which is frustrating after so many years of hard work. However, we ourselves are partly responsible, as self-stigmatisation among drug users still exists. We have to remove the barriers between service providers and the user community – the obstacles exist on both sides. And we must embrace a ‘bottom to top’ approach, not ‘top to bottom’.

Meeting representatives of other key populations during the forum in Amsterdam was an enlightening experience. It is good to see what works and what doesn’t. For instance, I was really impressed by the advocacy and lobbying skills of sex workers and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. I feel there is so much to learn from them. I am just an ordinary guy from the streets who was given the opportunity to participate in a forum abroad. I wish all key populations would be given such a chance. Now, I understand the importance of bridging the gaps between key populations and service implementers, and between organisations and governments. In Amsterdam, I truly got the sense that ‘the bridge’ is being built.