“Pusat Pertolongan” means “Help Center” in Malay, and it was a drug addiction rehabilitation center in Malaysia. Founded by a former German Catholic priest who converted to Islam, it operated out of a former home for victims of leprosy or TB (I am not sure which) in the town of Batu Gajah, near the city of Ipoh.
And I lived and worked there from 1981-82, as a Henry Luce Scholar, on a one-year assignment.
The program was modeled on the highly confrontational, behavioral, sometimes psychologically brutal self-help program at Daytop Village on Staten Island. Mostly, therapists were ex-junkies themselves. Somehow, even though I was just 21 years old, the farthest thing from an ex-junkie, and the only non-Malaysian in the place, the management decided I should be the Officer in Charge and Therapist to the senior residents in the program.
I was not very effective as a therapist to Malaysian junkies. So I kept requesting that I be demoted. Finally, in a foreshadowing of my future career, I found my place as staff trainer and organizational consultant. (The story is summarized in my book The Sustainability Transformation.)
In April 2009, I found myself in Malaysia on other business, with an extra day or so before I could fly home. So I went to Ipoh, hired a car and driver, and went out to Batu Gajah, looking for Pusat Pertolongan. Thanks to the kindliness of the local residents, I found it.
It had been abandoned for many years. The buildings were still standing, but that was all. The sign at the front gate had been virtually covered over by a giant anthill. Broken glass, scattered papers, shattered ceramic toilets … it was quite a mess. Entire, huge trees had grown up in places where once were walkways. Nature is reclaiming the place.
I visited the cottage in which I lived. I visited my old office, roofless now. I even found the sign that once hung on the office door — lying in decay, being eaten by white ants.
Thanks to this visit, I retrieved many memories … names, faces, even songs and chants. Each “phase” in the program had its own cheer, and the Center had a theme song: “We are here because there’s no refuge from ourselves …”
And thanks to the internet, I am in touch with at least one former resident in the program, an ex-addict who kicked the habit for good (many don’t, can’t).
What I’ll do with these memories, photos, and the feelings that go with them remains to be seen. But for now, it is a gift indeed to have this feeling of closure on the most formative, difficult, challenging, devastating, exhilarating year of my younger life.
6 thoughts on “Return to Pusat Pertolongan”
I can feel my eyes getting misty… These pixs of the abandoned cottage and buildings this is my FIRST view of them since July 1978 when I ran away from there after 5 months. Had climbed the fence (light-heartedly called by residents as “Cottage 9” – there were only 8 of course)… went through the rubber smallholding, houses, tin mine… until meeting the road leading to Lahat.
BTW Alan, do you have any more pixs of Pusat? What became of the surau… Built when I was there with money donated by former Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. And Tunas Baru, the sentry post. I doubt if there’s still a “football field”..
i was there july 77′ to oct 77′ , bapa was there, so are the pioneers, i was told they started the place back in ’72. Like you, I too climbed over the fence, but I got cut badly by the barb wire,
Very nice and touching posting. I can almost feel what you must’ve felt when you went to visit the place the other day.
I’m glad I managed to read this, Alan. In today’s Facebook and Twitter age where stories get summarised into 140-character-or-less sentences, blogs like yours are as relevant as ever. It’s great that you took the time to jot this down.
,,,i ran a joint, called Capt’songhouse on Kapas island for drug addict friends that come over to turn to a new leaf. Its self supporting and in fact, using some of my retirement money to manage the place.
,,,been doing o.k. for the past 19 years or so and quite a few success stories and a couple of frustrations too. It all depends on the individual will power to quit their addiction for good and am just around to provide them a place to chill off and rediscover themselves as a responsible individual, nil forcing whatsoever, except i don’t tolerate thiefing while they are here helping to run the place as a backpacker hostel.
,,,the mixing around with people from all over the world and sharing each others experience, kind off open their eyes to the bigger picture to life and living. Helps making them realise the beauty of friends and nature, without being hunted down or pressured by the authorities/familiesor so called previous friends of theirs !
,,,hard work and earning a living the honest way is one of the method utilized here. Trust and respect with one another is an important criteria in opening their mind to get back to society. Allowing them the freedom of speech and decision making plus following a simple process in carrying out various taskings, also gives them the added confidence within oneself.
,,,generally, we all enjoy ourselves together as a single team and we also work hard and play hard together.
,,,the changes in mindset and character does indeed takes time but time is on our side on island living. No rush no pressure no forcing, if you want to do it, just sit down, plan and select whatsoever option, act, execute and deliver it !. These kind of activities are very interesting and challenging indeed to all of us, as have to together earn every single cent to survive on our own here.
,,,i would moniter the moods and changes by the individual but always allow them to brief me on their own time as to their progress. I have only to listen and most time we have lots of fun doing so too !. There is no right or wrong answers as I will advise them, cos in life an living on this mother earth, what is right today and can be wrong tomorrow too. So one has to make a decision and finish off whatsoever tasking needs to be done.
,,,in time, most will improve and be able to move back to their home town to start a new !. In fact, many have done so except for just a few.
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What happen to the good old days? Where has Bapak Scholer [Rahman] gone too? Any idea of Aloysius, Federick,Vijayan,Jimmy and Jeremy [Pusat Wanita] whereabout ?