The facts about drug and alcohol abuse among the youth revealed during the anti -drug /alcohol abuse conference held in December last year in Kigali shocked participants and RTV viewers who followed the proceedings.
A few years ago I noted the devastating effects of drug abuse among the youth in some Southern African countries, but until the conference, I wasn’t aware of its prevalence among our own.
The lessons learnt from the conference should stimulate action among all of us. In the cities where drug abuse and alcohol abuse is prevalent cases of robbery, rape and other forms of violence are equally prevalent and are associated with the condition, so whether directly or indirectly, drug and alcohol abuse affects all of us. Fortunately the conference participants represented diverse stakeholders including the First Lady Madame Jeanette Kagame, the founder of Imbuto Foundation which, among other things, works to improve the welfare of youth and vulnerable persons.
Inspiring presentations were very informative and sparked interesting discussions. In the words of Martin Ngoga, the Prosecutor General, the conference ‘created awareness among us’ implying that policy makers, law enforcers ,opinion leaders started to see the problem from the same perspective.
Ngoga’s statement signals a major step towards a sustainable campaign to combat drug/alcohol abuse as key stakeholders attending the conference were not only informed about the extent and dynamics of the problem but were visibly mobilized to act in concert towards the goal of curbing the fast spreading vice.
The dynamic of behavior change, however, especially among drug/alcohol addicts is complex and needs expert intervention. Popular singer Miss Jojo’s proposal for the establishment of rehab centers does not need to be emphasized. There is dire need for psychologists and other experts to deal with the problem institutionally. Those concerned should act fast and create those specialized institutions. Kenyan press often carries testimonies of individuals who have been rehabilitated by such centers, and experts in the field use the media to sensitize the people. The media in that way has helped to reduce the stigma drug abuse/addiction inflicts on the victims and their families, and has encouraged public discussion on the issue, which is a significant step towards social change. Let’s talk about it but responsibly. Ngo ushaka gukira indwara arayirata.
Madame Kagame’s view that more efforts should be focused on preventive strategies to protect the youth from such bad influence is critical, and in that vein I propose an integrated educational campaign, involving the media, leaders, civil society, teachers, parents and the youth.
Experts in Communication for social change and development could add value to such a campaign by carrying out research determining the variables that make campaigns successful such as knowledge, attitudes and practices of targeted groups, formulating appropriate messages, values to promote, negative values to discourage, the mode and format of communication. It is also important to consider other discourses in the environment that might counter the messages being promoted or pose resistance and act on them.
The role of elders in inculcating good conduct among the youth has declined. What are the reasons? Why don’t the youth value their elders so much as before? What is the impact of the so called modernization? These are some of the questions that need to be addressed if elders are to play their role in modeling the youth. The findings of such formative research, would also serve as a framework for a viable educational campaign against drug/alcohol abuse.
Musekeweya Radio drama, produced by La Benevolencija –Human Tools Foundation’s educational media campaign in the Great Lakes Region, in support of reconciliation and justice processes, could provide a model. It uses a strategy widely used in social change interventions known as Entertainment –Education in which educational messages are inserted in an entertainment format like television or radio soap operas, music, etc . This helps to attract audiences’ attention and communicate messages, through role modeling, without appearing to preach to them.
Musekeweya drama serves as a source of information about peace building, justice, trauma healing to audiences and models positive behavior to be emulated and negative behavior to be shunned. In addition there are parallel interactive programmes like “KUKI”, Akuzuyumumutima, listener groups’ discussions and other radio magazines that involve Rwandans in discussions, public debate and activities that promote peaceful co-existence through dialogue and cooperation. This is important because dialogue is key to social and behaviour change. People are more likely to change if they discuss in groups and reflect on issues that affect their lives.
I strongly recommend the approach because it would be based on the needs of audiences and the integrated approach ensures that agents of change, like teachers and parents would obtain necessary information from the drama about drug and alcohol abuse, and the radio drama would ease communication between children, parents and other change agents by providing a fictional model as well as role models.