Unexpected Drug Addiction and Street Life

Tommy* was born like any other child and during his childhood lived with both his father and mother. Life was not always easy, but he was loved by both parents.

When he was around four years old, his father started sleeping away from the house at night. Sometimes, he would leave money for food at home, but sometimes not. Tommy’s mother tried her level best to look after them by doing some garden work for other people but could not provide everything her children required. Realising she couldn’t cope, she sent Tommy and his two older sisters to stay with an Uncle who was a long distance driver, not realising how irresponsible this Uncle could be. Sometimes he would leave them at home for a week without food. Tommy’s sister would search for food by leaving home early in the morning to town to look for scrap metal to sell and get money to buy food. By the age of five, their uncle completely abandoned them and some neighbours tried to help them by offering just accommodation since the landlord could no longer allow them to stay in his rooms without paying rent. For lunch now, they had started going all three of them to town looking for scrap to sell. The time came when the neighbours could no longer offer accommodation and the only option was to remain on the street day and night.

S.A.L.V.E’s peer to peer education in a local school

Tommy lost hope for life and began to hate himself every time he failed to collect enough scrap metal to afford food. They could go hungry for a day or days, having a slogan of ‘no scrap, no food’. Later on, he came to know that the father had a psychiatric problem, but though he never saw his mother again, he heard she had married another man and moved far away.

He started going to check on his father with his sisters but he could not help much. As time went on, he learnt that on the street, his other friends could fight hunger by sniffing aeroplane fuel (mafuta), and soon tried this. Once he started, he realised that having a day without taking mafuta was challenging to him. As he grew up, he gained new friends who convinced him that mafuta was not good for his health, but marijuana and alcohol spirits could be substituted for mafuta, and were much easier to take. Finding it hard to quit mafuta, he began taking more marijuana and spirits on top of this, without realising their damage to his health.

Meeting S.A.L.V.E.

S.A.L.V.E. International run a peer to peer programme, where S.A.L.V.E. staff, and children currently under the Drug Rehabilitation Programme go to the streets to educate children on drugs and their dangers. Their aim is to stop those children taking drugs, and encourage them to go to school. During one of these trips, Tommy became interested in what was going on. Whenever the opportunity came for the staff and children to talk to them on the street, he never missed this, convincing S.A.L.V.E. staff to consider him for joining the drug rehabilitation programme.

Tommy has been at the Drug rehab programme for several months now and has greatly improved. His favourite activity is going to the streets with the S.A.L.V.E. staff to encourage his peers to stop using drugs and alcohol, sensitizing them on the effects of such substances on their health through his own experiences. Now Tommy is 17 years old and he says that the 12 years he spent almost hopeless on the street have been restored. He has started planning his life like never before and he also has a heart to reach out to as many peers who are on drugs as possible as he prepares to join education to have a brighter future.

Thank you to everyone who has helped to support our Drug Rehabiliation Programme. Many people think that because a child has taken drugs this means they will never quit and have a brighter future. With your support we are able to show this isn’t true, that every child has potential. We really appreciate your support.

*Tommy’s name has been changed in this public forum in line with our child protection policy

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