At the roadside linking Rwezamenyo to Kimisagara separating Rwezamenyo and Gitega sectors of Nyarugenge District, we notice a group of about fifteen young men all in their mid-twenties in a beehive of woodwork related activities.
As we approach, two of them, dressed in navy blue workshop dust coats, simultaneously move quickly towards us calling ‘boss boss..!’ with hope we are new clients, they are sternly beckoned to move back by one amongst them; we realize there is order and control. We decide to talk to the one with authority whom we latter learn is the head of discipline.
Jean Paul Bikorimana, 27, is one of the 35 members of Tuzamurane, a cooperative formed by former drugs and alcohol addicts.
“Each person you see here was a drug and alcohol addict; many of us were violent robbers,” says Bikorimana.
His father was a drunkard and his mother a teetotaller. Arriving in Nyamirambo in 1994 from a rural town of Bugesera, Bikorimana was a teenager and frightened by the drinking, smoking and fighting common in the area. But he got used to the place.
He says it all began with just tasting a little of the drugs every day.
“It was through idling around with friends who were already addicted that I started abusing drugs and got addicted,” he talks about the start on a self-destruction journey.
Soon he had grown physically dependent on a substance
“It grew more and more over time,” Bikorimana says of his addiction. “Eventually, I could not stop. You get this euphoric happiness that comes over you and nothing else can beat it.”
“Suddenly, you’re comparing everything else in the world to that feeling and nothing compares, not even authorities.”
Drug abuse backfired when he was arrested in the same area for theft.
“I was messed up on drugs and was going into houses stealing anything I could get my hands on.”
When he was arrested by the police, Bikorimana was immediately taken to Gikondo transit centre and later to Iwawa Rehabilitation and Training Centre in the Western Province.
Iwawa is a small island on Lake Kivu in Rutsiro District. It’s a rehabilitation centre for young drug addicts where they are also empowered with vocational skills such as carpentry. Founded in 2010 to give street children the chance to forge a career off the streets, the centre has experts with extensive knowledge of handling psychological disorders.
At Iwawa, six first months are dedicated to rehabilitation while the second phase of six months is for vocational training.
“The arrest by Police kicked off a major transformation and turned my life around,” Bikorimana says.
At Iwawa the recovery journey was not smooth. He says it was punctuated with many triggers into relapse but thanks to the trained personnel, he was able to fully recover.
When he returned from Iwawa, Bikorimana and three other colleagues went back to Rwezamenyo where they implemented what they had learned from the rehabilitation facility.
“We were three with only a few carpentry tools and about Rwf10, 000 together when we began; we brought other rehabilitated addicts and others who were on streets, now we’re 35 members,” he narrates.
Today, their carpentry business is worth over Rwf15 million thanks to the financial support from Government through Business Development Fund (BDF), which gave them a business guarantee fund of Rwf11 million.
The Executive Secretary of Rwezamenyo Sector, Stella Mbabazi, says that local initiatives to facilitate youngsters have benefited them a great deal.
Emmanuel Hitayezu, the police spokesperson of the City of Kigali, said, “We have witnessed how a profound increase in the number of former street kids engage in self-help project. They are our stakeholders in stopping crime.”
Tuzamurane members say they want to expand their business to help more youths to get themselves off drugs by providing employment to them. They plan to introduce tailoring service to help young girls who want to join the cooperative. They also plan to establish a counselling a programme.
Last year, the government launched a nationwide campaign against drugs, which sought to identifying and rehabilitating addicts.
Police statistics show that 18 per cent of all the 3941 cases recorded last year were related to drugs. 4149 people were arrested in drug related crimes last year, more than 71 per cent of them aged between 18 and 35 years. In the last five years, police recorded 18,383 cases related to narcotic drugs.
According to Aimee Bosenibamwe, the Director General of National Rehabilitation Service (NRS), since 2012, over 15,000 youths have so far been rehabilitated from the three Government facilities of Iwawa, Gitagata and Nyamagabe.
Plans are underway to expand the capacity of existing rehabilitation centres, he said.
Under the plan, officials say, Iwawa will be expanded to accommodate 10,000 people from the current 3, 000. Gitagata will be reserved for the under 8 years old, Bosenibamwe said.
In addition to offering socio-economic rehabilitation, the centres applies integrated preventive approaches to stop further spread of drug abuse.
“The long-term and sustainable solution is to eliminate all causes that may lead to child instability from family, in schools and community” he says.
He says this is possible with the involvement of the community, especially at the household levels where causes emanate from.
He cited domestic violence, child labour and child harassment, inherent post-conflict situations and peer influence as key drivers of drug addiction. “Peer pressure has led the youth into regrettable circumstances.”
To this end, he urges the youth to be aware of whom they connect with all social media platforms and other social interactions.