April 30, 2014
By Simon Chambers
“Drugs and alcohol are a coping mechanism,” says Pam Rogers of the Drug Addiction Recovery and Education (DARE) Program that works with Karen refugee and migrant communities on the Thai-Burma border. “People are dealing with many losses: their family, their land, their heritage, their freedom, even their body parts. They can’t leave the camps. There is nothing to do.” So many people turn to alcohol or other drugs to cope with the pain.
DARE, a PWRDF partner, is the only organization focused on addiction recovery in five refugee camps and one migrant community along the border. Their methods, which blend Western and traditional knowledge and treatments, have been remarkably effective. Over seven years tracking their clients, they have had a 65% success ratio, compared to 25-30% which is the norm in a North American or English treatment centre.
“We put resources into the community, not just into institutions,” says Rogers. The DARE addiction workers””some former addicts, some not””are all from the communities they serve. A lot of time and effort has gone into changing attitudes towards people with addictions. “Treatment used to mean putting someone in a pit for 10 days with food and water. Today, DARE’s program is so successful that people in Burma are sent to the refugee camps for our treatments.”
DARE workers are trained in acupuncture detoxification, herbal medicines, counselling and more. “We had a traditional doctor teach our workers for nine months to learn diagnosis and herbal treatments,” Rogers continues.
DARE also focuses on prevention of addiction. Teen volunteers present plays and other education events for children, men’s and women’s groups gather to support each other, DARE sponsors awareness campaigns, and DARE workers visit people in their homes to talk about the dangers of addiction. Over 16,000 such home visits are conducted by DARE staff every year.
Currently, the DARE workers are finishing writing a training manual. The manual is written in Karen and is designed to be very user friendly. It compiles thirteen years of work and experience in one place, and is designed to be taken back into Burma for people to use in their communities as they slowly repatriate.