Langley’s Andy Bhatti has come along way from living on the streets of Aldergrove and the Downtown Eastside as a teenager, thieving, dealing and running from police to feed his $1,200 a day heroin addiction.
Not only is Bhatti, now 34, clean and sober (he has been for almost nine years), he concentrates all his energy on bringing awareness to childhood sexual abuse and helping young survivors so they don’t have to go down the same hellish path he took.
For all of his efforts that have already made tangible differences, Bhatti is the 2015 winner in the addiction category of the Courage To Come Back Awards.
Bhatti will receive his award at the Courage to Come Back awards night held Thursday, May 7 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
And true to his focus, he is bringing some unlikely guests with him to the awards banquet.
He is bringing the police officer who co-nominated him and started him on the right path, the probation officer who helped him see he could be more and two staff members of Sophie’s Place in Surrey, the centre he has donated more than $18,000 to. It helps children who have survived abuse or trauma. His sister, who nominated him, is also attending.
Bhatti isn’t really comfortable with receiving an award but said he wants to accept it for “all the survivors out there.”
Bhatti is a passionate advocate for survivors of child sexual abuse, He has raised around $40,000 for his cause over the past couple of years, doing poker tournaments, pub nights and cycling 700 km in B.C. last summer.
But he continues to work hard for awareness and help for survivors.
He said since going public about being sexually abused, he has had dozens upon dozens of emails from other survivors sharing their stories. But many men aren’t ready to openly acknowledge what happened to them.
“We have to break the silence of sexual abuse,” he said.
One in three children are abused and one in five of those are boys, he points out.
He recently has been trained and is an interventionist and substance abuse coach. He has already helped several families in crisis and helped those with substance abuse.
Recently an anguished mom from Newfoundland called him asking for help for her son who was also sexually abused by a Big Brother, just as Bhatti was as a child.
“She Googled sex assault cases by Big Brother and my name was the only one that came up,” he said. “Her son won’t go out of the house, he won’t even get into swim trunks, he is suffering. I asked her what services do they have there and she told me there wasn’t any for children,” he said.
Bhatti started doing some research and there isn’t services for young people in Newfoundland. There is an adult survivors group that meets, but nothing for young people.
So Bhatti is going there on April 26, joined by actor Graham Wadell, to walk for awareness of child sex abuse. He then is returning in summer and will ride 1,200 km to raise awareness and funds for services to help out child sexual abuse victims. Along the way, he will speak in various communities about the five key ways to prevent child sexual abuse, including signs of grooming.
He will be joined by celebrity Shannon Tweed, originally from Newfoundland.
For every penny he raises in B.C., it will go to Sophie’s Place, named after Sophie Simmons, daughter of Gene Simmons of Kiss, and Tweed. She is a friend of Bhatti’s.
A full-blown heroin addict by the age of 14, Bhatti was self medicating his pain after being sexually abused by his Big Brother, from the ages of nine to 13.
His abuser, who volunteered as a Big Brother through Langley Big Brothers and Big Sisters at the time, was later convicted of sexually abusing two boys in Kamloops.
It was only after that police officer came to him asking if he had been abused by that same man that he broke his silence.
Bhatti has created his own registered charity for victims of childhood sexual abuse, called Survivors Supporting Survivors.
“Our goal is to carry the message to any survivor that there is hope and we can recover from any form of abuse, addiction or sexual abuse.”
He is now working as an interventionist. Readers can learn more about his work at aslinterventions.com
On Tuesday, former Canuck Dave Babych is watching Game 4 of the Canucks versus the Flames at Jimy Mac’s Pub, with all the proceeds going to Bhatti’s not-for-profit Survivors Supporting Survivors. To learn more about that group go to www.supportingsurvivors.ca.