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Sunday , May 20, 2018
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Special Report: With skills, a new start for recovering drug dependents (Third of four parts)

DRUG dependence and employment issues are often linked in a vicious cycle.

Longtime drug users usually have difficulty finding jobs. Then this unemployment becomes a reason for relapse, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

This is why after they have been rehabilitated, drug users who surrendered under Oplan Tokhang are referred to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) and other government agencies for education, skills training and job and livelihood opportunities in the “aftercare” phase of their rehabilitation.

In 2017, the Tesda Cebu Provincial Office provided skills training to 222 drug surrenderers, 89 percent of them male, in automotive servicing, electrical installation and maintenance, shielded metal arc welding, computer systems servicing, bread and pastry production, and housekeeping.

The surrenderers were from 15-63 years old, the bulk or 101 of them 21-30 years old.

They came from 12 towns and cities in Cebu: Borbon, Carmen, Catmon, Cebu City, Consolacion, Daanbantayan, Danao, Liloan, Mandaue City, Sibonga, Sogod and Toledo City.

Pilot program

Some of those who took the Tesda training were part of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) 7’s pilot program for recovering drug dependents called “Strategies Toward Acceptance, Reintegration and Transformation of Poor Recovering Drug Dependents” (Start).

Under Start, a total of 30 drug users were served in the five pilot areas of Cebu, Talisay and Lapu-Lapu Cities, and Minglanilla town in Cebu; and Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, said Angelina Paghubasan, social welfare officer 3, focal person for the Start program from 2014 to 2017.

The aftercare program provided medical, educational, cash-for-work and cash-for-training assistance to the participants, some of whom were as young as 15 and as old as 70 years old.

Only those who had completed a three-month treatment program, either community based or center based, and were confirmed to be drug-free during this period, could join Start.

Since Start predated President Duterte’s administration, not all those who joined the program were Tokhang surrenderers.

Going forward

With the end of Start’s three-year pilot implementation, the DSWD is now documenting its gains and milestones, so it can advocate the program’s adoption by the local government units (LGU) where the project was piloted, said Grace Yana, DSWD 7 focal person for social technology and the children sector.

“But even before that, the LGU can continue the program if they themselves were convinced that it was effective and if there is no other program that can respond to the situation in their areas,” she said.

How effective was the program?

Of the 30 participants, 20 of whom were from Talisay City, there were only four who did not complete the program. But Yana won’t call them “dropouts” because they are always welcome to return, with aftercare understood to be a continuing program.

Of the five pilot areas, Start was most successful in Talisay City, where there are now almost 100 drug users being served by its community-based treatment (CBT) program.

“We just concentrated on 20 of these because the rest could already be taken care of by Talisay, which has a budget. Their CBT program began before Start, so Start was just added value,” Yana said.

Aside from financial assistance, Start provided some of the technology imparted to the recovering drug dependents (RDD).

“The psycho-social sessions, Relapse Prevention Group (RPG) sessions, support groups, the sessions with co-dependents and families, that’s the technology that’s part of the Start program,” she said.

Changed lives

The program has changed many lives.

Yana said some participants had resumed their high school studies. Others had graduated from college, while still others had availed themselves of skills training from Tesda.

“We have athletes who joined triathlons and won, while some of our RDDs under Start were absorbed by the LGU as job order employees under their local social welfare office,” said Paghubasan.

“This is a good indicator that they have already recovered,” Yana said, “because they are already functional and productive. They are now working and earning. Because if they were still users, they would still be lazy. The Start program really reformed not just their economic status but also their character and values, as well as their appearance.”

“We have a job order employee in Talisay City. Both husband and wife are RDDs. The wife is now managing a coffee vending machine. At the same time, she was empowered and mobilized to serve as a facilitator during co-dep support group meetings,” Paghubasan said.

In Lapu-Lapu City, Paghubasan said, an RDD who received livelihood assistance now has a stall in the market. At the same time, the RDD took Tesda training and now has been hired by an establishment.

Driver to lessor

In Barangay Luz, Cebu City, a former pizza delivery driver used the P5,000 in livelihood assistance he received from DSWD under Start to turn the house he received as an inheritance into a rental property, giving him additional income.

Now a collector for a lending firm, Jack* (not his real name), 47, said he added the P5,000 to the amount his policeman-brother also put in for the repairs of the house, and they now split the monthly rent they receive from their tenant.

After joining Start in 2015, he also received P2,000 in transportation assistance and P3,000 in its cash-for-work program for serving as a facilitator in meetings.

Curiosity during his elementary school days led Jack to drugs. He finally entered rehab in 2008 first at the Drug Rehabilitation and After Care Center run by the Philippine National Police in Cebu City, then later at the Department of Health Treatment and Rehabilitation Center-Argao.

Jack decided to reform after his parents died. With his siblings already having their own families, he realized he was alone, so he had to learn to be independent, he said. He now serves as a facilitator at Narcotics Anonymous meetings at the Redemptorist Church where he helps others to achieve sobriety.

High-end clients

In Barangay Talamban, Cebu City, Anthony*, 37, the youngest of eight children, began taking shabu at 12 years old, influenced by his older brother who used drugs.

Anthony’s wife sent him to rehab in 2013. When he joined Start in 2015, his wife used the P5,000 in livelihood assistance from the DSWD as added investment in a business she had started selling vegetables to a restaurant in uptown Cebu City.

After he completed rehab, they got more clients. They now supply 12 restaurants, including high-end restaurants, with arugula, lettuce, capsicum, basil, mint and rosemary.

Anthony has also ventured into breeding fighting cocks, raking in awards as top breeder for 2016 and 2017 from a regional breeders association. He now has clients from Bohol, Masbate and Dipolog.

His mother blamed herself for his drug use, saying that when Anthony was 10, she and her husband left for the United States for what was supposed to be a year’s vacation that became a five-year stay after they found work there and were loath to lose the good money they were making, leaving Anthony to the care of his older siblings.

In her absence, her children turned to drugs. On her return to the country, she said, she immediately sent three of them to rehab. Including Anthony, four of her children have been to rehab.

Nearly four years sober, Anthony now attends Mass weekly and doesn’t even smoke. When one of his workers started using drugs, he gave him an ultimatum: stop using drugs or leave his employ.

His advice to parents: “It’s better if you bring your children to church with you because teenagers succumb easily to temptation. I accompany my son to activities he wants, like sports.”

Many agencies

DSWD 7 also provided one-time educational assistance to the children of the RDDs, Yana said.

“But after that, they were able to continue sending their children to school, because we also assisted them in their livelihood. Meaning wala napatay ang capital na atong gihatag. Nagpadayon siya because naka-support man sila even sa education sa ilang mga bata,” she said. (The capital we gave them produced returns because it went on to enable them to support even their children’s education.)

Start involves many agencies, and all partners in the regional inter-agency task force agreed on the policy that the RDDs cannot receive assistance if they are not sober, so RDDs really try their best to maintain their sobriety, Yana said.

The DSWD provided the drug testing kits used under the Start program to conduct the random drug testing on RDDs during their twice-weekly Relapse Prevention Group sessions. If the kits were not enough, the Department of Health provided them.

Short-term work

Outside of Start, the DSWD also extends its regular services to surrenderers and their families.

Daisy Lor, DSWD 7 social welfare officer III, focal person on family, women and youth, said some 5,613 Tokhang surrenderers in Central Visayas availed themselves of the food-for-work program in 2017, receiving food packs worth an aggregate P5,077,440 after undertaking the cleaning of canals, digging of drainage and other disaster preparedness activities.

This program was undertaken in Cebu (Cordova and San Remigio towns) and Bohol.

On the other hand, for the cash-for-work program, 50 RDDs in Cordova, Cebu received a total of P145,200 for 11 days of work planting mangroves.

Work undertaken under food-for-work and cash-for-work programs should be disaster-related and not go beyond 11 days.

Under the DSWD’s assistance to individuals in crisis situations, 326 RDDs in Central Visayas also received P899,140 in educational and medical assistance, some of which was for their families, such as to pay for a child’s school enrollment needs, or a family member’s hospitalization, she said.

Under the DSWD 7’s Sustainable Livelihood Program, 10 surrenderers from Subangdaku, Mandaue City also availed themselves of skills training on driving, said Rizalina Patindol, regional program coordinator of SLP.

Scholarship

The Cebu Provincial Government also helps surrenderers through its Paglaum Scholarship Program.

“The Provincial Women’s Commission already has a scholarship program for women in crisis, the poorest of the poor, solo parents, persons with disabilities, and children of dysfunctional families. So we just added the children of surrenderers,” said Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale.

“Unfortunately, only two availed of the program. Maybe it’s due to the stigma of being surrenderers,” she said.

At least, only two admitted their parents were drug users. For one of them, both parents are in jail.

Under the program, tertiary school students receive an allowance of P1,500 per month, on top of the tuition paid directly to the school. The first two batches of the program now have 843 scholars.

The program is advertised through the mayors and barangay captains.

Coordinate

In Regulation 4, Series of 2016, the Dangerous Drugs Board requires LGUs to coordinate with Tesda; the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Trade and Industry, and other government agencies and non-government organizations for livelihood, training and other civic activity programs for voluntary drug surrenderers.

But at the DA 7, Regional Executive Director Salvador Diputado said it currently doesn’t have a program for drug surrenderers in Cebu.

Reintegration

As for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), its only program so far for surrenderers is the one conducted by its Negosyo Center in Bogo City.

Janeth Verallo, Negosyo Center counselor in Bogo City, said Bogo has a Rehabilitation and Reintegration (RERE) Program for surrenderers, with the DTI as part of the reintegration component.

“After they graduate, they undergo skills training,” Verallo said.

“In 2017, there were 600 RERE graduates. They identified who among them wanted to go into business. The government had promised that those who voluntarily submitted themselves and stopped doing drugs would be given work. So the others were given work already in the city. Some are working in the city hall. Others are job order workers in the market. And the LGU also coordinates with business groups in Bogo for their employment,” she said.

Other groups were sent to the local government’s training center for Tesda training, depending on their interest, she said.

The Bogo Livelihood and Technical Skills Training Center is accredited by Tesda to offer technical and vocational education and training programs under Tesda and Ched.

Those who wanted to go into business were given startup capital by the LGU. Then they were passed on to the DTI’s Negosyo Center for training through the Negosyo 101 series of seminars.

Ten slots were given last year, she said.

These 10 people received capital in the form of startup kits worth P10,000, such as a bundle of clothes if they wanted to go into clothes retailing, or grocery item kits or sari-store store kits.

“This year, the Vice Mayor’s Office submitted a letter requesting the DTI for skills training for engineered bamboo, while other groups want soap making and T-shirt printing,” she said.

Last April 3, the Negosyo Center opened its shared service facility in Bogo with the arrival of a laser cutter and 3D printer that can be used by micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the city to create prototypes of products.

“The mayor’s plan for the shared service facility is that he will prioritize the graduates of RERE for employment. The existing information technology personnel will train them to operate the equipment,” Verallo said.

Republic Act 10644 or the Go Negosyo Act mandates the setup of DTI Negosyo Centers in all provinces, cities and towns to help MSMEs in all aspects of business, from finance to marketing, branding and labeling, among others.

Yakap Bayan

The DSWD 7’s Lor said DSWD is now introducing the Yakap Bayan framework, whose objective is to “transform drug surrenderers from ‘cancers of society’ to community leaders.”

Under YakapBayan, surrenderers will undergo rehabilitation, community service and other programs to transform them into volunteers, then advocates, and eventually, leaders.

The framework was launched in Central Visayas last Feb. 26.

“Under Yakap Bayan, the drug surrenderers are provided with capability building through disaster preparedness. They will be trained in life skills, life support, firefighting, rescue, so that in the event of a disaster, they can be maximized. There is capability building, community service, until they are transformed,” said Aileen Cuevas, DSWD 7 social welfare officer V and chief of the promotive services division.

“The DSWD is now advocating that LGUs adopt Yakap Bayan, because most of the time, hanging man gud ang ma-Tokhang (LGUs don’t know what to do with their surrenderers). So the LGU can now be guided. They can use 70 percent of their disaster preparedness budget for this,” Lor said.

Talisay in Cebu is now seeking a template for a resolution to adopt it, and the mayors of Trinidad, Bohol and Canlaon City in Negros Oriental have also expressed interest in adopting it, she said.

Yakap Bayan was piloted in Ifugao last year, and none of its 109 surrenderers have relapsed, Lor said.

No new infrastructure

The framework, which involves six months of rehabilitation of the drug users, and then 18 months for aftercare and reintegration, uses available resources and programs. It does not require new infrastructure.

Under Yakap Bayan, the LGUs will coordinate with other agencies on activities for the surrenderers, using their own budget. Any agency can pitch its programs and services, and existing programs can just be aligned under the framework.

Useful

After they are trained, the surrenderers will be tapped as volunteers in times of disaster.

“They can see the value of their life already, that they have use in society after all. Not only will they become leaders, they might even be elevated to hero because if there’s a fire, and they rescue their neighbors, they become heroes. Society will now look up to them, boosting their morale. So now they’ll say, ‘Why would I go back to drugs when it was not good?’” Lor said. “In other words, we give them a chance to show their potential.”

Lor said there are 1.3 million drug surrenderers in the country, and the LGUs would now have to account for all of them and look for interventions for them.

“All surrenderers should be trained according to their inclination,” she said. “Some will have life skills training. Others will be in firefighting. Even if they are already part of community-based treatment programs, it has to start with community service. They cannot become leaders if they will just do Zumba.”

Lor said the people who got into drugs were those who did not know their purpose in life.

Quoting the evangelist Dr. Myles Munroe, she said, “The greatest tragedy in life is not death but life without a purpose.”

(Last Part: Biggest contributor to drug problem identified / PDEA, PNP weigh in on war against illegal drugs)


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