Kinley Restaurant in Zangdopelri Shopping Complex in Thimphu—a popular hangout for snooker players and the city’s restless, meandering youths—is empty save two reedy boys having a late lunch, silhouetted against bright window light. Nothing about the restaurant has changed—the same layout, the same vacuous atmosphere, the same simple menu list…
Because it is a Tuesday, the restaurant’s bar is concealed deftly behind an orange curtain—strictly no drinks on a dry day! That’s about the only visible change here. Even the waiter and kitchen staff are the same. But a silent, imperceptible change has occurred. The owner of the Restaurant is 21-year-old Birkha Gurung who is nurturing a dream of the whole look and brand of the restaurant.
He even has a name thought out for the restaurant—Nazhoen Lamten—he would call it, after the non-profit organisation that supports and reintegrates children who have come in conflict with law supported him.
A problem child
That’s how Birkha describes himself—a problem child. His parents separated when he was but a kid in primary school. The impact left a huge void in his life. Soon Birkha began to hangout with kids who were doing drugs. His academic performance slackened and finally dropped out after failing thrice in Class V.
After dropping out of school, Birkha worked as a parking-fee collector. One afternoon, Birkha and his friends were smoking marijuana. When the police caught them, Birkha saved his friends.
“They were still studying and I had dropped out. I had to save them. For me, then, I had nothing to lose,” says Birkha.
Birkha’s father was going through a difficult time himself—trying to make his son stop abusing marijuana and keep his family intact. Birkha’s mother would leave not long after and the journey thereafter for young Birkha was downhill all the way.
The date was 17th of August, 2017. Birkha remembers it clearly. He was 17 years old. After a three-month detention, he was taken to Youth Development Rehabilitation Centre (YDRC) in Chukha.
At YDRC Birkha contemplated deeply about his life.
“I couldn’t continue living such a life without education. I had to decide what to do in life,” Birkha says.
YDRC provides many training opportunities. Birkha took baking and he wanted to be a chef. “Better part of my days at the centre was spent planning my future.”
Nazhoen Lamtoen visits YDRC and conducts interactive sessions with youths. In one of the sessions, Birkha raised his hand and said he wanted to be a certified chef and requested for a support.
Thinley Tobgyel, Nazhoen Lamten’s executive director, said Birkha looked determined and promising.
When Birkha was released on January 10, 2019, he called Thinley Tobgyel asking for a support. Nazhoen Lamten gave the support. That’s how Birkha ended up running Kinley Restaurant.
“Were it not for Nazhoen Lamten, I would have been lost still. I owe big time to the organisation that believed in my dreams. That’s why I want to start a restaurant and name it ‘Nazhoen Lamten,” says Birkha. “I am what I am today because of Nazhoen Lamtoen.”
According to Thinley Tobgyel, most of the children at YDRC come from dysfunctional and low-income families.
Thinley Tobgyel said that children face a hard choice after they leave YDRC due to lack of support and opportunities. “They easily become recidivists.”
Like Birkha, Nazhoen Lamten has until now reintegrated 44 children back t done o society from YDRC.
While working as a sous-chef with Project ZZA, Birkha tried to reunite his parents. He even got a job for his mother at the project as a helper. Sometimes he would cook delicious food and take it to his father saying that it is from mother. The other way round at other times. But both refused the overtures.
“Whatever happened between them, I think I will succeed in bringing them together. But I’ll keep trying, why not,” says Birkha, who provides for the family and the education of his younger siblings.
Hari Biswa, Birkha’s father, is proud of his son. Hari Biswa said he was overwhelmed his son, who only used to get in trouble is a responsible, is a “self-made” man today.
“I have kicked the habit and do not want to go back,” says Birkha. “I prefer to look ahead and plan for better days.”
The dream starts with the Nazhoen Lamten Restaurant in the heart of Thimphu.