The subject of rehabilitation of victims of drug and substance abuse is one that we do not want to believe and probably talk about much because it always feels like “It is a waste of time” but it is real. We have to confront reality and think about it. We have so many untold cases of young suffering Ugandans out there with addiction problems which they could actually come out of. Here a case of a drug addict who came out of drug abuse and is now very useful to the community.
It all started when I engaged Okurut Simon a 29 year old builder at Ngora Shops in Ngora District in a conversation when I saw the concrete poles he had made for a chain link fence of a businessman in Nyamongo village in Ngora. He first made a beam and said, this is the frame where the concrete is going to settle. I got interested because he had made about 50 beautiful finished concrete poles and had others deeped in the curing pit as a requirement in construction to avoid evaporation of water from the concrete in order to achieve strong and durable concrete. Out of curiosity I asked where he had learnt construction work from?
For a moment, he kept quiet, shook his head and smiled at me saying it was a long story.
He said, his parents were killed by Joseph Kony rebels in Amuria in 2000, when he was 9 years old by then. That time is a tragic one that he does not talk about anyhow. He was the second born of five children but their last born also died with their mother and only left four of them. “Life became unbearable when our uncles took everything we had during insurgency and barely left us with nothing to survive on” he sadly recounts. After that time around 2005, he began loitering in the streets of Soroti town with his brothers and joined peers who were also idling around. This child headed family, ended up crumpling as they begged for food for survival and anything that a good Samaritan could place in their hands. By 2008 when he was 17 years he was living a very reckless life of crime, bitterness, hopelessness and frustration and it was at this point that his life went astray for five years upto 2013 and was now into smoking Marijuana, drinking alcohol, eating ‘Khat’ thuggery and raping young girls.
In 2014, Okurut was arrested together with his three colleagues in an attempt to rob a shop in Soroti town and jailed for six months and released. But before 2016 he also had been again jailed twice for sexual assaults against minors. “I could not control sexual urges and violence anymore because of the influence of drugs. I was not myself and nothing mattered to me. My body was jerking all the time due to lack of balance” he added.
During the jail term in 2016, we were lucky because an organization dealing with rehabilitating drug addict victims picked six of us and we were taken to Kampiringisa Rehabilitation Center located in Mpigi district, Okurut explains. From there, they were put under treatment, counseling, hygiene, health management, vocational training, digging and many more to help develop their skills. “There are so many things that took place at Kampiringisa and all those things helped put my life back on track” Okurut laughed as he recollected what happened there.
Kampiringisa is a National Rehabilitation Centre established in 1952 by an Ordinance Act as a boys approved school to cater for the boys who needed care and protection, especially those beyond parental control and delinquents. The Children Act Cap 59 sub section 96 transformed the school into a National Rehabilitation Centre. The objective of the Centre is to detain, retrain, rehabilitate and integrate the children taken there back to the community. The stay at the Centre depends on the gravity of the offence, maximum being three years.
It was from this point that heaven broke loose for him where he picked interest in construction work. “I can now do anything even carpentry but my interest was in any construction work”, he said. When he was released in 2018, his cousin took him to do some construction work at a certain site in Mukono where they made culverts, bricks, pavers and slabs. He was there up to the end of 2018 where he left for Kapchorwa where a mentor took to train him to make concrete poles. He worked there and in 2019 he crossed to Moroto, where an organization contracted him to do concrete poles for fencing their land. Okurut’s life changed and as he was now receiving small contracts to do construction work. He got married and settled in his home in Ngora and occasionally got called if there was any work to do.
But towards late 2019, Okurut made a setback when he was now doing well and was happy. He joined his mason friends and others that made concrete poles with him and they formed a group where they began drinking local brew in Moroto again. His reason to do this was to keep him in line with his friends but little did he know this was scrathing hell again for himself. “Each time I drank local brew, my body would jerk and this made me uncomfortable until I took some alcohol” he said. With this experience, Okurut relapsed and found himself drinking alcohol again which began affecting his performance. By 2021, he had now left Moroto and relocated back to Mukono where he was trying to do odd construction jobs that only paid him little salary compared to what he used to get at the organization under contract arrangement. From then to date, he began struggling with addiction that he says is very difficult to fight. He is currently undertaking addiction treatment at Butabika Referral Hospital as well as receiving counseling. He is doing well and has promised himself to become a better person in life.
Following the progression of events in this story, we can safely say there are several ways in which a community can work on preventing drug abuse. The important thing to remember is to put effort to; Provide Education on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Increase Access to Addiction Treatment, Reduce Incidents of Drug Use and Shift Punishment and Consequences of Drug Use. It becomes a matter of addressing all of the factors that influence the quality of living in a community, especially as pertains to how those factors affect the youth of that community.