Former drug addict seeks atonement in awareness-raising trek

(Xinhua) 16:22, June 26, 2023

TAIYUAN, June 26 (Xinhua) -- A sun-bronzed middle-aged man trudges through streets and alleyways, pulling a modified handcart bearing an array of words and photographs. Even from a distance, one pithy slogan is clearly visible: "Say no to drugs."

The man is Lyu Jiajun, a 47-year-old former drug addict who hails from Shanyin County, in north China's Shanxi Province. However, these days he may be found in numerous places across China, sharing his anti-drugs message with everyone he meets. During the time leading up to the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, he can be found in Beijing.

Occasionally, he stops and hands out leaflets that explain the harm done by illicit drugs to the crowds. He tells one interested passer-by, "Even though drugs have not made their way into your home, you still can't be sure they don't concern you," advising the man to learn more about the new and stealthier types of narcotics.

Lyu has been conducting this anti-drugs trek for almost five years now, having finally overcome his own drug addiction. He learned his lessons the hard way, becoming addicted to heroin in his twenties, and being admitted to drug rehabilitation centers twice, in 2013 and 2017.

In 2019, one month before being discharged for the second time, his mother died. In her parting words to Lyu's younger brother and daughter, she expressed her wish for her drug-addict son: "If he can come back alive, let him be a good person and stay away from drugs."

Lyu was struck by grief and the guilt of failing to fulfill his filial duty to his mother -- supporting her in her old age and on her deathbed.

"You could see it as a kind of atonement, because my mother's final words resonate in my mind every day, even in my dreams," Lyu said, explaining his initial motivation in hitting the road, his eyes brimming with tears.

The idea of embarking on a handcart trek emerged when he saw a news piece about how adolescents are being ruined by new types of narcotics. At that time, he was working in an electronics factory in Jiangsu Province thanks to a reference from police officers.

He quit his job and hit the road, using his savings of over 10,000 yuan (about 1392.85 U.S. dollars) to get the ball rolling. The cart contains all the elements of his home: a tent, a folding bed, clothes, blankets, and kitchenware.

He also carries a stash of results from urine tests that he has taken along the journey. They prove that he is currently "innocent" of drug taking, and serve as a sober reminder of his past, thus helping to prevent a relapse. He also has with him two notebooks containing words of praise and encouragement handwritten by police officers from the narcotics control system in various localities.

"I am increasingly accepted by society and my work is getting recognized," said Lyu. He has been invited by police officers to schools, drug rehabilitation centers, and neighborhoods to share his experiences in shaking off drug addiction.

He supports himself by collecting and selling recyclable garbage and doing occasional part-time jobs. There have also been times when he woke up in the morning and found bags of rice and wheat flour by the side of his tent.

During the course of his trek, he has acquired the skill of live-streaming, which provides a new way of sharing his message. He quickly found his live-streaming space was inundated with trolls, but he refused to give up. Now he conducts his journey each day with cellphones mounted on the front of the handcart.

Over time, he has amassed tens of thousands of followers who offer genuine moral support, many of them former addicts and their family members.

Since starting out in 2019, Lyu has covered over 16,000 kilometers across 15 provincial-level regions. Once he has completed his awareness-raising trek, he will return to his hometown and take up farming. Even then, he plans to continue using his experience to help others facing the same challenge.

"There is no going back in my life. If I were to give up on this task at any point, I'd feel like my whole life was pointless," said Lyu.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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