Children ODIC in Bangladesh, by APON

 

With the easy availability of drugs, juvenile drug addiction has grown beyond proportions, causing concerns and new threats in Bangladesh. It has been estimated that there are 445,000 street children in Bangladesh, of whom 75% (333,750) are in Dhaka City who are using one or the other drugs,  often sniffing glue, cannabis, sedatives, consume alcohol, heroin and others use Yaba or inject drugs as well.

Since 1994, Bro. Ronald Drahozal, a Catholic brother from USA has been working among the children in Bangladesh. In the process, he founded the ‘Ashokti Punorbashon Nibash’ (APON), a Non Governmental Organization for the welfare of the children and adolescents. In June 2012, APON set up  an Outreach and Drop-In Centre Program for children in the age group of 4-14 years in partnership with the Colombo Plan and funding support from INL, US Department of State. Briefly it consists of Primary education, vocational skill training, sports and drug awareness.

Colombo Plan spoke to Brother Ronald who has spent a major part of his life in Dhaka, working with children and teenagers with drug addiction problems.

How did you get involved in this type of work and what motivated you to working among children? 

When I came to Dhaka as a young missionary brother, I was deeply affected by the pathetic scenes of its slums and the scores of street children who have lost their childhood in drug addiction. When I first started work with these young children I realized that without touching their addiction problem, one cannot improve their life styles. They not only lacked the five basic needs, but were also enslaved by the clutches of addiction to drugs. Their situation made me think a lot and really inspired me to start my mission among them.

What is the background of APON ODIC in drug treatment? 

The first drug rehabilitation programme/ centre in Bangladesh started in July 1988 – long after most Asian countries had such programmes. At that time, everyone thought there is no recovery for addiction and no one knew any addict who got off drugs.  Initially, the program was basically for adult addicts, but some children were also brought by parents. One such boy was Bokul, an 8 year old boy who was bought by his mother in a dying condition from heroin use. Though, with a few relapses and recovery, he still lives.  Recently I met him on the street in Dhaka, who looked drug free, physically healthy and was going to work.

Those working at the ODIC are recovering drug addicts, who help young addicts recover or stay free of drugs. More recently, we hired females who were involved in a previous female ODIC that closed due to lack of funds.

 

What are the programs in your ODIC ?

We have both outreach programs and drop in centers to cater to the drug demand reduction in Dhaka.

  (1) Outreach:  In this the modality, the goal is to reach out to the street children and create awareness about drugs. By reaching out to these street children we have a chance to observe their lifestyle very closely. Their life is really miserable, they are passing the night under the open sky, wearing the same dirty clothes for days on end, with no guarantee for food and safe homes. Now these children at least know the bad effects of drugs and those who get injured now are getting some treatment with the help of “Our APON-ODIC” centre.

(2) ODIC: The second step is to provide services for these children. Here the young boys get day care facility; where they are able to learn social graces such as good manners and discipline. They also get some primary education, some nutrition support, bathing facility, entertainment, etc. For example these boys now have learnt to greet one another, respect others and behave better in society. An example is that these boys need to wash themselves upon entering the centre.

How do you provide an appropriate / unique solution to their problems?

In APON, the clients are street children and what they need most is love and care. We try to address their basic needs first before dealing with their drug addiction.

One solution we cannot yet provide is a safe night shelter. Many of those who come to the ODIC are sleeping on the street where they are unsafe. It is most difficult during the rainy season and even more difficult in the cold season.  APON has not been able to develop the ODIC into a safe night shelter for young boys living and sleeping on the street as we have a large number of such boys at our rehab centre at APONGAON. Though we have the space, there are financial constraints.

Counseling factors to consider?

As ODIC is for children living and working on the streets, usually far away from their families or relatives, we need to consider some extra points related to the reason they are on the streets; some may have been forced to leave their home and family, some ran away due to poverty or family violence, some victims of police atrocities, crimes, sexual abuse etc.  We need to consider their life background to provide appropriate counseling. So, while counseling them, we also motivate them to begin thinking about what they want to do in life and encourage them to use various opportunities to learn new skills.

What are the outcomes of ODIC in Dhaka?

Before the implementation of the ODIC program, the addicted children, their guardian and others had lot of misconceptions about drugs. They also did not have any idea that using drugs and other high risk activities can transmit disease such as STI, HIV, etc. Some people had a thought that no one can ever get rid of drugs or recover from drug abuse. Now from the outreach activities, they have been educated about drugs and drug related problems.  ODIC activities change their attitude towards drugs, manners, behavior, etc. and give them other things to do besides using drugs.

What positive changes and effects has ODIC work/service done for these children?

Now most of the boys attending ODIC can write their name, some of them can read story books and can do some easy calculations too. They are eager to learn and proud to show that they can write some Bangla letters, words, etc.  Another important change is that they are more cheerful than ever by joining ODIC’s indoor game session and recreation. We have seen changes in their family as well.

What were the challenges faced by APON?

The Bangladesh’s unstable political situation was one major problem. Hartals, strikes, blockades were almost every day in week here. Another important matter was that some of the children usually do not stay for long in one specific place. They always like to travel here and there. So, sometimes they are not attending DIC regularly.  Some boys do not like to follow the rules and regulations of the center and follow their own style. But on the whole, the ODIC was able to withstand all such challenges and move forward.

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