Drug abuse and alcoholism are the bane of many youths’ existence, despite efforts to eradicate them. Many young people have died or been blinded after taking dangerous drinks, with their families left counting losses.
Some addicts cannot do anything at home apart from abusing alcohol and drugs. They end up being fired from their places of work or dropping out of schools, especially in colleges and universities.
A former alcoholic says addiction is a disease one cannot heal on their own. Gregory Muchiri, 36, says one needs rehabilitation to overcome it. The fourth-born in a family of five at Kirigiti village, Kiambu county, says he has come a long way.
“I first tasted alcoholic drinks when I was in primary school. I had friends in high school who drank different brands. They were older than me. I liked their company,” he says.
He says when he joined secondary school, he met and befriended boys who trained him how to sneak out of school in search of alcohol and bhang.
Later in form 3, Muchiri became a member of the notorious Ghetto Gang in Kanunga High School, Kiambu. All teachers suspected them of abusing drugs, and he used to be among those punished for the vice.
“We would steal students’ pocket money from their school boxes, wallets and any other place they kept it, so we could have money to buy chang’aa and bhang rolls from sellers, who used to sell them in coffee plantations near our school,” Muchiri says.
Before he knew it, Muchiri was an addict. After sitting his KCSE exam in 2001, he went home and continued abusing alcohol. “I became a nuisance at home. I couldn’t hide it any more since I could not do anything on a sober mind. I was known in the family and in the village as a drunkard,” he says.
Muchiri says his mother, Margaret Waithera, used to pray for him to stop abusing drugs and alcohol, since he had failed to heed her demands.
“My father died in 1983. I’ve been brought up by my mother all through. She used to be my dad and mum, but I disobeyed her,” an apologetic Muchiri said.
“She used to cry whenever she looked at me, wondering how I would stop drinking alcoholic drinks,” he says, adding that his mother’s efforts to discover what he would want to do in future so he can take him to college failed due to drunkenness.
TURNING OVER NEW LEAF
During campaigns for the April 2013 General Election, Muchiri drunk so much, stole money from campaigners, fought people, and was left bankrupt, dirty and an enemy to many in the village. When the polls ended, he realised he needed to change.
“I started contemplating what I have been going through, what people say about me at home and in our village. I was stressed for several weeks. I thought of killing myself and in fact I bought a rope” he says.
Muchiri decided to approach friends for help to reform and change his ugly life. The friends took him to his family members.
He says he was soon taken to Asumbi Rehabilitation Treatment Centre in Karen, where he was admitted for three months for counselling.
After he was discharged, he felt he can help others, and he went back to ARTC, where he enrolled for a three-month certificate course in counselling.
“I was rehabilitated for three months without taking alcohol. I went back and did a certificate course in counselling. I hated alcoholic drinks,” he says.
In early 2014, he started approaching addicts at the roadside and talking to them on how to stop abusing alcohol and drugs.
“Those who had not become addicts like me would stop, but it was a bit difficult to deal with the extreme cases,” he says.
OPENING A REHAB
In February last year, he opened the Ahadi Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre at his Kirigiti village and registered it to the government as a Community Based Organisation.
He built classrooms in his one and a quarter piece of land, where he started offering day counselling services, but clients used to complain they needed more lessons.
Muchiri says as days went by, clients from outside the county started seeking services, and he was forced to build dormitories in the institution.
“Initially, I didn’t have money to build classrooms. I borrowed from friends, who gave me after realising I had changed. I used to be called by institutions to talk to addicts, and the allowance I received, I used it build classrooms. I sacrificed,” he says.
Currently, he has 16 patients undergoing a three-month rehabilitation course. “I have had several sessions last year. People enrol, learn, reform and after three months they leave, and we enrol others” he says.
A Garissa University nursing student James Lekapule says he dropped out in the semester due to drunkenness. Lekapule started taking alcohol and smoking cigarettes and bhang while he was 18.
“I progressed with them until I joined university. The friends I made at the campus made me smoke and drink more, until I could not attend lecture rooms. I was left behind by other students. End of April semester of last year exams were done without my knowledge,” he says.
Speaking at the rehabilitation centre, he says when he went home in Samburu county, family members started convincing him to be taken to a rehabilitation centre.
“I was drinking too much. I was taking anything I was told would make me high. I didn’t want to know which brand or who made it. I was troublesome when I went home. It wasn’t simple for me to accept to be taken to the rehabilitation centre,” Lekapule says.
The institution’s founder says the rehab charges affordable fees so he can feed boarders and pay the salaries of counsellors, who commute daily.
Patients engage in debates, where they discuss issues affecting them and find solutions. They also engage in religious studies, since the institution is founded on strong Christian beliefs.
“We pray each and every morning, sing hymns to ensure they dedicate themselves to our creator, who is God. We aim at ensuring they extend the religious beliefs from this institution to their homes when they leave,” he says.
Muchiri says there is no addict who cannot reform, urging the society to never lose hope with family members affected by alcoholism and drug abuse, but instead take them to a rehabilitation centre.
Muchiri is married to Elmina Wawira, and the two are blessed with an eight-month-old son, Peter Muchara.
“I learnt that family is a unit of the society, I decided to have one and God has supported me and we are blessed with a baby boy. Marriage is God’s creation,” he says.
Units offered at Ahadi include lifestyle training, individual counselling, group counselling, family counselling, patrol counselling and discharge planning counselling.
“We have to touch all areas that cover a human being’s life. We ensure when they leave us, they can speak against drugs and alcohol. They cannot attempt to use those alcoholic drinks again in their lives,” he says.
Counsellor Njeri Gichure from Pioneer Professional Counselling Centre says addicts are patients like any other, but they need help and love during the time of healing.
“Their self-esteem needs to be raised, so they feel they are worthy, they should be made to understand their future means a lot to them and also to their family and the society at large. They don’t need to be condemned,” Gichure said.