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Faith Helping the Addiction Fight


Ethiopia’s youth population is increasingly struggling with drug addiction. Many young people are resorting to drugs as a coping mechanism for the difficulties of poverty, unemployment, and social isolation, which worsens the situation. Those who are battling addiction find it challenging to access the necessary care due to the lack of rehabilitation facilities in the country as a whole. The ones that exist are frequently understaffed and underfunded. However, some monasteries and religious sites are attempting to address the issue and aid individuals who are fighting addiction. In this article, EBR’s Eden Teshome tells the story of those who are fighting their addiction with the help of religion.

Saron Melaku is a 26-year-old survivor. She was raised in a household that Ethiopians consider to be wealthy, so she had everything she needed as she grew up and was exposed to a wide range of experiences.

When she graduated from high school, her father enrolled her at a university in Virginia, USA, in the hopes that she would receive a better education there. Her father’s good attempt also opened up the doors for a bad experience with cocaine, which drastically changed her life. It all began at a party she attended during her first year of college in Virginia. Her friends persuaded her to give it a try. One try was all it took to become addicted.

Saron first believed she had everything under control.

“I persuaded myself that I could still keep up with my studies and that I would only consume cocaine on the weekends,” Saron told EBR. “However, as time went on, I started using more regularly as my addiction grew stronger.”

Soon, Saron’s grades began to decline, and she started skipping classes. She would spend all her money on cocaine, leaving her penniless and unable to pay her rent or food. She started acting erratically and began to isolate herself from her friends and family.

Saron was unable to envision a path out of the life-controlling addiction that had taken over hers. Without anybody to turn to for assistance, she felt trapped and alone. That is until she made the decision to tell her mother the truth about her predicament.

“My mother urged me to return to Ethiopia and promised to look after me. I was so much thinner than they expected, and my face appeared worn out, which startled my family,” Saron remembers the dark times.

After she arrived in Ethiopia, life became intolerable. She was usually annoyed and irrationally angry with everyone around her. She was unable to eat or function normally. She started acting miserable when my friend returned and gave her once more.

“I overdosed and woke up at our house, trapped in a room,” Saron says about her mode of rehabilitation. “Having a small window and a door, it served as the gatekeeper’s house.”

Saron’s parents kept their daughter locked in a room, feeding and bathing her for more than two months. One thing she remembers from that time is how she slowly taught herself to pray. Surrounding herself with spiritual books, her parents’ mode of rehabilitation gave Saron a chance to commit to her religion, something she had not done for a long time.

After leaving the lockdown, Saron was born again. She managed to turn herself around and open herself to new possibilities.

“I am married now and seven months pregnant,” Saron says. “I cannot say I would be where I am now if I didn’t commit to my spirituality.”

Spiritual engagement in helping addicted youth is also being undertaken in a more organized way at various monasteries belonging to the Orthodox Church.

Samson Aboye, 50, a father of three, has spent more than two months at St. Joseph Church in Akaki Kality District. Samson lost three of his elder brothers to an addiction to local alcohol- Areqi.

Samson, a well-trained carpenter who worked for big corporations like Haile Resort, was on the verge of losing his life, too. Having lost his job, it had been his routine to wake up in the morning and go to one of the local Arqi houses, drink a couple of them, sleep the whole day, wake up, and add more.

All that changed when one day his nephew would have him tied up and carried to St. Joseph Church, where she spent more than two months. When EBR visited the site in mid-June, there were more than 50 young men and women fighting their addiction with the help of the church.

“Here you hear about stories that are worse than you,” Samson told EBR. “You feel like you still have a chance to make it.”

Substance abuse has become a major problem for the young population and even older ones, which is also affecting the economy worldwide. The youth are the future of any country, but substance abuse is robbing them of their potential. Many young people are using drugs and alcohol to cope with the pressures of life. This leads to addiction, which can have devastating consequences for their health, relationships, and future.

The economic impact of substance abuse is also significant. The cost of treating addiction and its related health problems is high. It puts a strain on the healthcare system and reduces productivity in the workforce. Substance abuse also leads to crime, which further burdens the justice system and puts a strain on law enforcement resources.

Moreover, substance abuse affects tourism, as many tourists avoid countries with high rates of drug use and crime. This can lead to a loss of revenue for countries that rely on tourism as a major source of income.

Alemayehu Tibebu is the general manager of Impact Ethiopia, a PLC that offers counselling in public health and psychological services. Alemayehu thinks there aren’t enough rehabilitation facilities, so working with religious organizations is a smart idea.

“Spirituality has its own positive effects when it comes to restoring mental health and sanity, but it won’t be able to do it without additional professional support,” Alemayehu told EBR. “Additionally, I think it’ll be successful if they cooperate. As the addicts  require psychiatric support as well in order to prevent them from relapsing.”

However, those who abuse substances frequently relapse, and this is mostly because neither pharmaceuticals nor psychological therapies are used in conjunction with spiritual healing, according to Alemayehu.

Even though there are few rehabilitation centres in Ethiopia, these few are making a significant impact on addressing drug abuse among the youth population. They are providing a safe and supportive environment for individuals to overcome addiction and lead healthy and productive lives by collaborating with religious institutes.

“It is crucial to continue to support these centres and raise awareness about the importance of preventing drug abuse among youth,” added Alemayehu.

11th Year • July 2023 • No. 119 EBR

Eden Teshome

Editor-in-Chief of Ethiopian Business Review (EBR). She can be reached at eden.teshome@ethiopianbusinessreview.net

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