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Dugarme’s keys to freedom

All this happy 66-year-old needed to get his life back on track was a place to call ‘home’ and someone to have faith in him.

The team at Ruah Community Services helped Dugarme Tassi-e with both.

Today, Dugarme has two very precious sets of keys – one to an apartment he’s enjoyed for the past seven years and another to a camper trailer aptly named “The Blue Escape”.

‘Escape’ has been a big part of this former data analyst’s life. When he gets talking about his past, there are stories of tragedy and brushes with disaster. Dugarme shares graphic details of how he escaped death in an explosion in Afghanistan, where he was working with refugees, and how he was seriously injured and now lives with a permanent brain injury and other physical reminders.

Later, he ‘escaped’ from hospital to avoid being moved to a nursing home and had another brush with death when living in his car as the streets took their toll on his health. Then his friends took Dugarme to The Street Doctor, who connected him with Ruah.

“If Ruah had not stepped in and helped me I would not have survived another bout of illness,” Dugarme explains.

What he found at Ruah was advocacy, encouragement, and faith in his ability to live independently if given the chance.

“When you end up on the street, it’s almost like every ability you’ve had disappears and people see you as not having any brain or any abilities or any skills.

“Ruah didn’t approach me that way. They worked out what I could do, what I might be able to do with the right support, so it was kind of like ‘baby steps’.”

After Dugarme had a home, the team at Ruah helped him find furniture and develop coping skills so he could focus on household tasks and reconnect with society.

“Nobody at Ruah said; ‘Dugarme you’ve got to do this’, what they said was… ‘we can show you stuff, and we can help you,” he said.

“I’ve had difficulties here (at home) and I still have meltdowns; I still have things go wrong from time to time but now I think ‘ok, you have a meltdown, but you still have to fix a problem … how do you fix the problem?’

“I know if I’m really stuck I can either get on a bus, get in the car, or pick up the phone and ring Ruah.

“They’re still there, even though I haven’t used any of their services for years.”

Mr Tassi-e is determined to give back any way he can, playing Santa Claus at corporate Christmas parties, and then donating earnings to the Ruah Centre. He also started, and now sold, a dog-walking business.

A home, capacity-building, some self-belief, and the opportunity to work has paid off.

Mr Tassi-e has reconnected with his faith and the Messianic Jewish community, and bought a blue-painted camper trailer, nicknamed ‘The Blue Escape’ so he can explore the country and document his camping adventures on social media.