Words and pictures by TONY PALME
MARIJUANA and homebrewed alcohol is placing many young people in great peril if nothing is done about it.
A community help group in Jiwaka is very concerned about this predicament and has taken steps to intervene.
Bridging Gap Drug Rehabilitation Centre, established in 2014, at Kugark in the South Waghi district, is currently the only drug rehabilitation centre in the province that is addressing the ever-increasing problem of drug abuse.
Its founder, Peter Kaman said they have been working quietly behind the scenes over the past four years and have found that the number of people coming to the centre has been steady, meaning that more work needs to be done.
There are currently 35 drug addicts from the Kisu and Berepka tribes seeking to rehabilitate their bad ways and living under his care. Fifteen volunteers take care of them as well as look after widows and women who have left their polygamous husbands.
The centre has its own garden in which kaukau and taro are grown. Bees are farmed for honey, and chickens are raised and sold in order to raise funds for the operations of the center.
Recovering drug addicts and the women who have found shelter at the address learn to read and write through Adult Literacy classes.
Kaman, a strong Christian member of the Evangelical Brotherhood Church (EBC) decided to set up the centre for recuperating alcoholics and drug users after witnessing a drug surrender programme undertaken by Jiwaka’s acting police commander Horim Piamia in 2012 when he was police station commander at Minj.
Despite best intentions, addiction is a vicious cycle that is sometimes difficult to get out of, one of the reasons being that these drugs are easily available.
“After the surrender programme, the drug addicts returned to their old habits.It was a chain reaction. The number of people who took marijuana increased, especially young boys, and girls too, Kaman said.
“Even couples started growing marijuana. They used it themselves and sold the restto make money. Overtime, those who smoked became affected mentally.
“It was becoming more worrisome because school children were also starting to experiment with drugs.”
Kaman added that dealing with drug addiction is not easy an easy task.
“You’ve got to be committed, you’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to do things out of love and be passionate.
“They do not come in the right state of mind. They have a history of having been abused by police, neglected by their loved ones and most have dropped out of school.
“The only way to curb their habit is to put them in an environment where they feel loved and where they are kept busy. That is why we created this drug rehabilitation centre where they can get help.”
The centre is located four kilometres away from the Highlands Highway, at the foot of a mountain known locally as Nol.
The Nol rehabilitation centre only caters for those who seek help during the day, and closes for the night. Kaman is planning to change this, and wants to turn it into a 50-bed dormitory that stays open day and night. He does not have the money and is seeking funding assistance from other organisations and individuals.
He has realised the disadvantage of a day centre in that as soon the people dabbling in drugs return home, they return to the bad habit.
“Soon drugs consumption and cultivation, and trade of marijuana will destroy the young population of this country.”
Kaman urges that drug rehabilitation centres be established in each of the 189 districts in Jiwaka as the problem is widespread.
At the center, rehabilitation programmes for this year started on Tuesday, Feb 13.
“We use phonics to teach adult literacy class. We have two classes for reading and writing, basic literacy and numeracy. There are 16 students in these classes.
“We encourage those who went as far as grade 7 or 8 to do correspondence courses. Adult literacy class has been going on for two years. Every Tuesday and Friday we have community work, road maintenance and farming.”
Kaman and his wife Freda started the community project in 2012.
“Because of the election that year, we did not fully function until 2014. We started with health and hygiene training.
“From our research, we found that 65 percent of people in the community handled drugs and realised that we had a big problem right in front of us so that’s where we went into establishing this drug rehabilitation centre.
“The volunteers had problems of their own. They saw our setup as aconvenient place for them and are now the backbone of this centre.”
Rickson Philip, whose wife died in 2015, has six children and is now a full time volunteer at the rehab centre.
“I now have no free time. I am busy every day. I am happy here. This centre keeps moving forward because people’s lives have changed, even if we have no funding,” he said.
Widow, Rebecca Kongiye from Berepka tribe said her husband died in 2014and left her with five kids.
“Before my husband died, he attended one of the training sessions at Nol rehab centre and recommended that I should attend to learn how to manage the family.
“I learnt about different gardening techniques. Here I’ve come to know God and that He loves us. I can now meet the needs of my children,” she said.
Drug users seeking help are put into groups and encouraged to learn in a participatory setting. Many a time, some find it difficult to concentrate or to be with other people and walk out during class.
“But slowly we start seeing a change in them,” Freda said.
“Stealing has stopped, they have their own gardens and their attitude has changed greatly. We are happy and God receives the glory.”
Words and pictures by TONY PALME