Ethiopia: Nipping the problem of addiction in the bud

September 14, 2018 Africa , Interviews , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , OTHER

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Addisalem Mulat



Today’s guest is social activist Elias Kalayu. He is founder and Executive director of the Meqoamia Community Development Organization. He is also one of the founders of the African Peer Recovery Support Specialist Group. He was a prisoner of addiction for thirteen years. In this regard, he had passed through thick and thin to set himself free from the yoke of addiction. As far as this, he has unfettered quite a lot of youngsters who were suffering from addiction and giving up hope on life.


This journalist had a short stay with Elias Kalayou with a view to familiarizing his personal and professional life with readers. He has touched upon a number of issues revolving around the nuts and bolts of addiction and its impacts on the youth. Below are some excerpts:



What is it about addiction?


To begin with, as per some sources, addiction is an unrelieved, deteriorating brain disease which is known for its neurotic drug seeking and use. Though the consequences of addiction are immeasurably known, most youngsters do not distance themselves from addiction. It is considered mostly by the majority as a brain disease given that drugs revolutionize the brain structure and how it functions. Likewise, addiction is a crucial, unremitting illness of brain remuneration, enthusiasm, recollection and associated circuitry. Mental illness brings about biological, psychological, social, spiritual indications and other related problems. Like other unrelenting ailment, addiction leads to cycles of deterioration as well as remission.


More often than not, people take drug for the love of buying intense feelings of pleasure and thus they think that they do everything they can as they wish. Hence, they feel that the instant they take drug the whole thing under the sun will be under their control. Every so often, quite a lot of things flickers though their mind. Honestly speaking, the feelings of happiness, self-possession and other related aspects do not last long. Most victims of addiction want to put themselves out of sight under the temporary feelings they secure out of addiction. Hence, they take different types of drugs to lesson feelings of distress which originate from social anxiety, stress-related disorders and gloominess.


If you take myself as an example, in the absence of marijuana, I felt like a fish out of water. I was wishing for death. My story was full of holes. I was flooded with psychological and economic problems. Unknowingly, I was harming my body. To be quite honest, I have not ever thought that addiction would have impact on my life. Even worse, without taking drugs, I could not go to bed. I was feeling empty and incomplete without marijuana. My life was fully attached to drugs.



Why do you think people take drugs constantly?


Oftentimes, when people first take drug, they may perceive what seem to be positive effects. Stress plays a major role in beginning drug use, continuing drug abuse or relapse pertaining to addiction victims. More often than not, some people feel pressure to chemically augment or recover their cognitive performance which can play a role in preliminary trialing and unrelenting exploitation of drugs.


In the same way, victims of addiction accept as true that they can effortlessly do everything as they wish. If they keep on consuming drugs, other pleasurable activities turn out to be less pleasurable and taking the drug grows to be necessary for consumers just to be on the right track. As the victims of drug have no way out, they in fits and starts hunt for and take a wide spectrum of drugs.



What inspired you to establish Meqoamia, a rehab center in Mekele?


To start with, when I was suffering from addiction, my parents had left no stone unturned to unfetter myself from the chronic brain disease. As time passed by, I realized to what extent I was affected by addiction. I was giving a hard time to my parents. Every so often, I was backing myself into corner. I could not keep my eyes open now and then. Days turned into weeks, turned into months and turned into years. I was getting myself into murky waters. I did not know the fact that I was off the track. I always thought that I was heading in the right direction. Slowly but surely, I realized the fact that the awareness level of people towards addiction was not worth mentioning. In the fullness of time, something I did not expect came to pass.



What was the next move?


When I joined the University of Mekele, I embarked on partaking in a range of fruitful activities. At that point, I was older than most students in the campus. In next to no time, I realized that some students were fighting with addiction problems. I was tire of living on the earth now and then. Life turned out to be a bitter pill to swallow. Everything was heartbreaking and heartrending. But I did not give up hope at a drop of a hat. When evening came, I embarked on worrying and when the day came, I grew to be busy rummaging around for money. Life was not a walk in the park. On a daily basis, I spent 150 Birr for marijuana.


The instant I joined the university, I established a club named the “Art of Taking and art of thinking” We were raising a wide spectrum of issues revolving around a wide array of things for the most part on addiction. As a matter of fact, I partook in drawing pictures and coaching students time and again. I was coaching students bringing into play various pictures concentrating on addiction. Whenever I made a speech, more than four hundred students set in motion partaking in the program. I turned out to be the talk of most students in the compound almost immediately.


Most students were considering me as a family and thus I felt a sense of responsibility. Most students were seeking my urgent help with the purpose of distancing themselves from addiction. I was constantly showering them with constructive pieces of advice. Inch by inch, I founded a club named Meqomia. Afterward, I rented a house for one hundred thirty Birr and embarked on rescuing different youths from addiction. Nobody had expected that I would distance myself from addiction at any cost. My friends thought that a miracle was happening. The strategy of Meqomia has got its own philosophy and vision.



What is the philosophy of Meqoamia?


We, all under the umbrella of Meqoamia are PanAfricansist. We attach significance to the population of Ethiopia. If we take Ethiopia as an example, its population is a hundred million. The landscapes, the animals and other related aspects belong to a hundred million people of the country. Without a shadow of a doubt, people who look up to their country, have a high opinion of themselves and their peoples. To my mind, the real expression of love is taking care of their minds. If they do so, Ethiopia will effortlessly be beneficiary within the shortest time possible given that achieving the intended target in the absence of a healthy mind is easier said than done.


People from all walks of life can broaden their horizon making use of a range of activities. If we take care of our minds as it should be, we can take our country to the pinnacle of success in a jiffy. To avert the crisis of addiction, all Africans should work hand-in-glove without more ado. The vision of Meqoamia is distancing oneself from abnormal thinking, attitude and creating a motivated generation in the continent of Africa for the most part in Ethiopia. We also make every effort to create a generation free from addiction.



How can we keep our brain young?


To start with, our brain is complex. The human brain is the most multifaceted organ in the body. Some drugs can make active neurons for the reason that their substance structure imitates that of natural neurotransmitter in the body. This in turn gives its blessing to the drugs to affix onto and stimulate neurons. But the drugs do not have the power of activating neurons in the same way as natural neurotransmitter. Likewise, mental health is more than the mere lack of mental disorders. The positive dimension of mental health is stressed in WHO’s definition of health as contained in its constitution: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”


If we would like to develop our brains or keep them young, we need to develop social ties, take exercise, pray, use fish oil, and have good sleep and what not. In this way, we can create happy, responsible, visionary, cool people, among others. Creating a peaceful mind is bordering on creating happy, cool, and other related aspects.



What is your take on the awareness level of people towards addiction?


To the best of my knowledge, we are witnessing various problems in connection with addiction and addiction related problems. But the awareness level of the people is not worth mentioning. Some countries do not bat an eye to take an instant measure on the problem with the intention of creating addiction free generation. As a matter of fact, negligence could bring about several problems. A case in point, in the 1960s Holland gave the cold shoulder to addiction and addiction related crisis and thus the country has lost one generation. Later on, they took a serious measure and turned out to be successful by designing structured mechanisms.


Without a shadow of a doubt, 71% of the population of Ethiopia is under the age of thirty. Of these, 41% of them joining the addiction world are under fifteen years. Furthermore, 30% of them are between fifteen and thirty years of age while the remaining twenty-nine percent are above the age of thirty-one. Nowadays, under the umbrella of our organization, we are raising awareness regarding addiction and its social, political and economic impacts on the youth. According to researches addiction have the power of playing down the GDP of a country by 3%.



What should be done to get to the bottom of the problem, as far as you are concerned?


In Meqoamia, there are three preventative strategies such as pre-disaster prevention, setting up preventive rules and opening rehab centers. We are focusing on Experience, Knowledge and Skill based prevention (EKSBP) at this moment in time. More than a few, illegal drug houses have been closed and market centers have been opened time and again. The university as well has opened free-smoking areas. To the surprise of many, in a cigar, there are seventy thousand three hundred fifty seven chemicals. Of these, two hundred seventy of them cause to experience various diseases. Among them, seventeen of them are causes of cancer.



As a final point, is there anything you would like to convey?


We do need the determination and commitment of the government pertaining to addiction. Before it is too late, special emphasis should be placed. Above and beyond, regional councils should get themselves ready to give us their ears. If they do so, we can raise awareness in relation to addiction. More to the point, we would like to familiarize the youth with the consequences of addiction. Above all, raising awareness in different parts of the country related to addiction plays a major role in nipping the problem of addiction in the bud. We are going to do a wide array of fruitful activities together with the Ministry of Health.


We have been engaging ourselves in various higher learning institutions of the country in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, with a view to sharing our experience concerning addiction and addiction related problems. We as well get ourselves fully involved on a national level targeting at the youth with the Ministry of Youth and Sport, Ministry of culture and Tourism, government and nongovernmental organizing and what have you. Without a shadow of a doubt, I do hope, our new Prime Minster would stand on our side with the purpose of creating addiction free generation.


We believe over the past ten years, we had been able to raise awareness to more than twenty million people across the country in relation to addiction. More often than not, we focus on university based anti addiction community movement. In this move, we were able make most of the higher learning institutions of the country smoke-free and addiction the talking point of everybody. Furthermore, we managed to help more than 450 victims of addiction in the rehab center found in Mekelle University. Considering our achievements, Ethiopia had been awarded Tobacco 2017 award.


My special thanks go to my colleagues, families, higher government officials especially to HE. Dr. Amir Aman, Minister of Health, HE. Dr. Kebede Worku, State Minster of Health, Dr. Shallow Dabba Hamusse, Mekelle university management team, House of Peoples representatives, Director General of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control office, Dr. Tedla W. Giorgis, Advisor, office of the Minster, Ministry of Health, Mr. Brian Mrales, Division Director, Global Drug Demand Reduction program, US. State Department, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.





Elias Kalayu


Addisalem Mulat

A published author, journalist, translator, host of a newspaper interview, contributor to magazines and teacher from Ethiopia.  M.A holder in English from Addis Ababa University.

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