Communities important in fighting youth drugs abuse
Close to Kimironko market, people are bustling about. Among them moves a group of seven street children, including two girls, in dirty clothes. Each holds a bottle of glue. These sniff it in public, and nobody seems to care.
Research on psychoactive substance abuse among youth conducted by ministry of youth in partnership with Kigali Health Institute early this year showed that 52.5% of the youth have ever used drugs and 92.2% of those have continued to take them, with some being social users but others becoming addicts with moderate or serious problems with drugs. The drugs in question are mainly alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and glue. The problem is more widespread in rural areas, with Southern Province coming first.
“In my district, people drink adulterated beer, and then they often get into fights” says one doctor from that province, adding that he receives at least three cases of drugs-related injuries per week. He remembers one dramatic case of a young man who gambled with his friends to drink a certain quantity of miriture (strike him!), a beer made of a mixture of sugar, marijuana, tea and other non standardized products. “After he drank it, he died.”
Evode Usabyamahoro from Nyamirambo used to abuse drugs for a decade, but has managed to kick the habit and has since 2007 a center for streetchildren. “Drugs are a real problem among Rwandan youth, but not many people feel concerned,” he says.
Usabyamahoro, who also goes by the nickname Commando, often goes to Nyamirambo market and the area around the regional stadium, where street children gather to use drugs, to try to convince them to abandon drugs. “Most of them seem to have lost common sense. You have to approach them carefully because, except if you are a police officer, they can attack you.”
According to the ministry’s report, the reasons given by young people to take drugs are mainly wanting to feel high, to escape a sad mood represent or to forget their problems, as well as to increase their strength. Considering these reasons, it is striking to note that in many districts where drug abuse is high, gender-based violence (GBV) is also more prevalent.
According to the country report on the implementation of UN Resolution 1325/2000 on Women, Peace and Security released in December last year, southern districts like Muhanga, Huye and Ruhango were amongst the first when it comes to GBV. Amongst recommendations, the reports calls on youth, parents, teachers, civil society and public institutions concerned with prevention and treatment of drug-related problems to get informed on the rising epidemic of drug abuse among youth.
Yet judging by the scenes in Kimironko and Nyamirambo, with youngsters openly using drugs, and as observed by Commando, it seems the old Rwandan adage “umwana ni uw’umuryango” (a child belongs to the whole community) is fast losing its meaning in modern Rwandan society.
However a joint campaign by the police, the ministry of youth and the National Youth Council is trying to counteract that trend. Dubbed “ijisho ry’umuturanyi” (the neighbor’s eye) it calls on people to be vigilant for drugs use within their community, but also for people to teach children the consequences of abusing drugs. Launched in June, the campaign has the very ambitious objective eliminating drugs abuse in Rwanda within six months.
For that to succeed, however, all the neighbors’ eyes will indeed be required.