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New start for youth after addiction

Youth participate in sports and activities such as Ultimate Frisbee to stay healthy.

June 9, 2019

By Mike Ziemerink

Along the Thai-Burmese border, refugee camps grow overcrowded with displaced Burmese ethnic people. Youth in the camps deal with the loss of family, homes, freedom and opportunity, leaving many with nothing to do but turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the pain.

PWRDF partner DARE (Drug and Alcohol Recovery Education) has been the only addiction recovery program catering to refugees in the area since 2005. DARE now operates in five camps as well as many villages along the ThaiBurmese border in Karen State, Burma.

DARE encourages physical activity and sports to get teens active and draw them away from drugs and alcohol. On any given day at the Mae La Refugee camp, you can find teens in a game of Ultimate Frisbee. The sport has become such a mainstay at the camp that the Bangkok Soi Dawz Ultimate Frisbee team has adopted the camp as their official charity, donating clothing, equipment and even training refugees in the sport.

In the surrounding area where DARE operates, the typical treatment for youth who struggle with substance abuse is to “beat the addiction out of them.” However, DARE founder Pam Rogers wanted to combine useful western knowledge with other interventions more familiar to the community. DARE uses acupuncture, traditional herbal medicine, yoga, physical activity and nutrition to help treat teens struggling with addiction.

One thing noticeably absent from DARE’s treatment program is the use of medication. “We don’t use drugs for drugs,” said Rogers, “We look for healthy replacements, other ways to help them.”

Engaging youth is not only a critical component of DARE’s addiction treatment program, but teens are also the main agents for preventing addiction.

Teen volunteers create and present theatre productions, organize community events and speak at schools in order to spread the word about the dangers of addiction. Volunteers also help DARE create awareness campaigns and conduct home visits ensuring everyone in the community is aware of the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction

Many of these youth volunteers are so passionate about the work of DARE because many of the volunteers were addicts themselves who received treatment. Once the youth recover, they want to join the fight against addiction in their community and start to give back. “The people are so happy when they recover, they didn’t know they could,” says Rogers.

DARE Network staff understand that PWRDF’s support comes fro people. People who actually care about them,” says Rogers. “Where their government and homeland offer only fear and death, the people of PWRDF offer love, kindness and friendship, which as been consistent over so many years. It helps the refugees feel valuable, which in turn helps DARE Network to reduce addiction.

PWRDF is currently working with DARE to implement an exchange program between DARE Youth Volunteers and Indigenous Youth from communities in Canada. The exchange will help facilitate dialogue between communities in Canada that suffer from high rates of youth addiction and the successful program at the Thai/Burmese border.

— a version of this article first appeared in the June 2019 issue of Under the Sun

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