In 2015, a group of individuals who had either lost loved ones to alcohol or were witnessing, and they themselves having been victims of alcohol and substance abuse, came together to form FORE [Focus On Recovery-Uganda]. It comprised of two ladies and two gentlemen. One of the members is Albert Elwa who himself had been chained to the harmful chuckles of alcohol. Today FORE has a strong team of fourteen professionals including therapists; and more five if the board members are included. FORE Uganda is involved in the prevention, intervention and recovery of people who have been victimised by alcohol and substance abuse and Albert is the managing director.
Albert as an individual suffered the wrath of being an alcohol addict for more than thirteen years. He lived his life drinking heavily, he did not realise it but he had isolated himself from his family.
The rate at which he was consuming beer, spirits and cigarettes was quite alarming, on an average day he would consume close to a litre of spirits and about two litres of beer, cigarettes were countless! He did not have a job so most of the financing for his drinks was through begging and telling lies in order to gain favour. “I had become a beggar, I got to a point where I was alone, no family, no friends even my fiancée left me, my education was ruined, and I was a social outcast!” Albert recalls painfully. One day as he thought about life, he realised the only way was to turn to God. In his drunken prayer, God answered him.
He met a friend he used to drink with but now was totally reformed and looking very healthy and good. This friend of his told him about rehab, Albert gave it deep thought and decided to go and face his parents about the idea of going into rehab. “My parents had given up on me, they had lost trust in me, they did not want to hear anything about me because of the lies I had been telling them and my miserable lifestyle of constantly drinking heavily!” When Albert approached his parents with a repenting tone, they gave him a chance. “It was all by the grace of God,” he remembers, because on that very day a certain uncle of his was telling his parents about the goodness of rehab, “it was a miracle!”
His staunch Catholic upbringing also played a role in his decision to reform. So, his apology was accepted and for ninety-five days, he was at a rehabilitation centre from where he came out a reformed young man.
Now that Albert was a reformed man, he found life was very different from what it used to be in his alcoholic days. He wanted to change immediately the lifestyle of the people still enslaved in alcohol and substance abuse very much so that he thought it could happen quickly. Unfortunately, it required time. “I was too judgmental on the victims, but recovery does not work in that way.” Albert then decided to take a course in counselling psychology to help further understand an addicts mind and how to be patient with them.
Five years later, Albert was diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer, a very deadly disease with a survival rate of only 15%. “With the help of God I managed to survive the operation because very few people come out of that theatre alive, and with the help of family and friends we managed to get finances to fly me to India for the procedure.” The cancer was attributed to excessive consumption of alcohol and cigarettes because it is a type of cancer, which attacks only the elderly. “After the experience in India, I wanted to bring together people who are suffering and those that have survived, but I was faced with too many hurdles. As I was about to give up, God gave me an idea, I had an inner voice telling me to help people fight that problem which had led to my cancer.”
Albert had a small detergent business, which he was running to help meet his daily demands. So during his free time he would go to schools and talk to students about the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse.
However, during these visits he still felt that he was not doing enough not until FORE-Uganda came to be, that is when he felt at least something was being done to try to fight the deadly habit that is eating up most of the society. Apart from schools, Albert and his team go to places where people who are likely to be affected especially slum dwellers to identify families, that need help.
Together with organisations like Stop Under Age Drinking Uganda [SUDU] and Children of Alcohol and other Drug Abusers [CAODA], they try to help especially the children and spouses affected. For the victims, they try very hard to seek treatment where possible. According to statistics gathered by FORE-Uganda through her partners, by 2014 80% of youths in Uganda were under the influence of alcohol and substance abuse, a very worrying statistic! 56.8% of youths under the age of eighteen are vulnerable to getting addicted.
According to Harm Reduction Network about 22% adolescents in urban areas have already been exposed and most of them have used alcohol and other harmful drugs, the figures are worryingly high in the growing towns especially Masaka and Mbarara. Uganda Youth Development Link suggests that children as early as twelve years are living under the influence of alcohol and other dangerous substances. The figures are slightly higher in boys but still the rate at which girls are getting addicted is equally worrying. Heroin and marijuana are very common in most secondary schools.
According to Urban Youth Foundation Of Uganda in May 2014, three quarters of young people had had their first taste between the ages of fifteen to twenty years 30% before the age of fourteen. Over 90% of today’s teenage population has used alcohol. 50% have tried marijuana. The average age of first experimentation is thirteen, even younger especially those trying alcohol. These figures are believed to have changed significantly, this is worryingly so because they are on the increase. “As FORE-Uganda we try to come in and reverse these statistics, our vision is to see a society in which healthy individuals build stronger communities.” Says Albert. “Our appeal to government is to introduce tough laws that prohibit underage drinking and other drug abuse, that also bans advertisements of alcohol and tobacco and in general come with stiff penalties for the consumption, production and distribution of illicit substances. Our future plan is to establish a treatment centre for addicts, continue doing activities to fight addiction and being part of the struggle against substance abuse.” “Our biggest challenge is with financing our whole operation, our source of revenue is still very low because of the fact that we depend mainly on donations from individuals with good will. It is also not easy to bring an addict to think straight, most of them after rehab end up backsliding but that is our fight.” When asked about achievements, Albert had very many things to say, “together with partner organisations, we managed to get the right honourable Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda to launch the Uganda Recovery walk which will be an annual event to help create awareness.” We have managed to open branches in neighbouring towns of Masaka, Entebbe, Masaka and Mbarara.
We hope to open even more centres countrywide. We have managed to successfully network with many partner organisations and various schools together with many other treatment centres across the country. We have built synergy with partner organisations and the ministry of health; this has helped to enhance our visibility as well as our efficiency. We were also part of the community that organised the launch of the very first alcohol awareness month in April by the ministry of health secretary Dr. Diana Atwine, an initiative spearheaded by SUDU. We have managed to regain a good number of people many of whom have completely recovered; few do relapse but that we shall manage with time. We have a quarterly magazine which is distributed countrywide and across borders as far as The United States Of America and The Republic of South Africa.
Finally we have a growing social media family that benefit from the information we share.
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