UGANDA: REFORMED ALCOHOLIC CLERGY SETS UP REHABILITATION CENTER FOR ADDICTS

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Reverend Father Samuel Okidi Mwaka in this office

“Even the words ‘stay sober’- let alone live sober- offended many of us when we heard such advice; although we had done a lot of drinking, many of us never felt drunk and were sure we almost never appeared or sounded drunk. So not drinking at all-that is staying sober becomes the basics of recovery from alcoholism and substance abuse”

“Before one is admitted at the in-patient treatment center, one has to undergo a lot of screening tests to show the level of addiction. If you are alcoholic, then you are recommended to stay here for three months before you fully recover. It your problem is drug addiction then you will stay with us for six months. We charge you UGX 30,000.00 (about US$ 8.00) per night for accommodation, feedings, medication and facilitation to staffs”

GULU-UGANDA: It is ten o’clock local time (07.00 GMT) on Monday, October 21, 2019 at the PACTA Father Bill W. Treatment and Rehabilitation Center at For God Trading Center, which is located four kilometers west of Gulu town, but the Executive Director of the center, Reverend Father Samuel Okidi Mwaka has not yet arrived at his office.

This recovery connection center is an alcoholic and substance addiction Rehabilitation center that provides a residential and out-patient treatment to persons and families affected by the addiction disease.

It provides opportunity for addicts to recover through psychotherapy and equips them with social, psychological skills to help maintain sobriety and integrate back into the society.

PACTA is an abbreviation which stands for; Program for Prevention, Awareness, Counseling and Treatment of Alcoholism. It is a pioneer NGO in the provision of interventions aimed at rehabilitating individuals affected by substance (alcoholism and other drugs) abuse and addiction in Northern Uganda and parts of South Sudan.

It was founded in June 2004 by Reverend Father Samuel Okidi Mwaka, a reformed and recovered alcoholic addict who was ordained on July 19, 1987 as a clergy of the Catholic’s Arch-Diocese of Gulu. He underwent treatment himself and has been sober since February 6, 2003. It was first registered on October 2, 2006 as Community Based Organization (CBO) which is open to all irrespective of any affiliation as the disease does not segregate.

Over 5,000 clients from northern Uganda and parts of South Sudan have benefitted from its program of prevention, awareness creation, counseling and treatment of alcoholism and other addictive illnesses.

“I am sorry that I kept you waiting. It is not my habit to keep my visitors waiting. I am late because I returned from Paimol Martyrs’ Shrine where we were commemorating the martyrdom of the two Catechists, Jildo Irwaa and Daudi Okello, who were murdered because of their faith in the nineteenth Century”, Father Mwaka tells me as we shake hands and he sits behind his desk to begin the day’s business.

Behind him, are three shelves full of files of the organization activities and a number of books on alcoholism and substance abuse, all aiming at getting out of addiction and how to stay sober.  He was wearing a short-sleeved gray clerical shirt with a dog collar.

One of the books, “How to Stay Sober” takes an addict on the steps he should take to stay sober and testimonies of some former addicts.

“Even the words ‘stay sober’- let alone live sober- offended many of us when we heard such advice; although we had done a lot of drinking, many of us never felt drunk and were sure we almost never appeared or sounded drunk. So not drinking at all-that is staying sober becomes the basics of recovery from alcoholism and substance abuse”, reads part of one of the articles in this book.

He says the key to recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction are simple in concept yet very sophisticated in application. The addicted person has to learn to function as a sick person and has to be taught step by step how to function as a recovering person and finally as a well person.

One-third of its staffs are recovered alcoholic and other substance addicts. It opened its doors to in-patient clients of August 01, 2018 with support of US$ 20,000.00 from an anonymous donor and since then over 27 in-patient clients passed through the center. The first in-patient, master Joseph Okema (25 years old), was admitted on alcohol and multiple substance abuse.

“Before one is admitted at the in-patient treatment center, one has to undergo a lot of screening tests to show the level of addiction. If you are alcoholic, then you are recommended to stay here for three months before you fully recover. It your problem is drug addiction then you will stay with us for six months. We charge you UGX 30,000.00 (about US$ 8.00) per night for accommodation, feedings, medication and facilitation to staffs”, says Father Mwaka.

He says that before the in-patient wing was established they used to refer all clients to Serenity Center located over 330 kilometers south of Gulu in Kampala city along Entebbe road which charges UGX 80,000.00 (about US$ 22.00) per night.

“Hundreds of clients we referred to Serenity Center in the past could not afford that cost and they would just end up dying in the community quietly without treatment. All they needed was physical change, psychological change and spiritual change to survive addiction”, says Father Mwaka.

However, the US$ 8 cost at this rehabilitation facility is still too high for most families to afford to send their patients at PACTA. According to Uganda Bureau of Statistic (UBOS) Uganda National Household Survey of 2016/2017, eight million Ugandans cannot afford three meals a day where the National Poverty level has increased from 19.7 per cent in the financial year 2012/2013 to 21.4 per cent in 2016/2017.

One of the five in-patient clients I talked to is Mr. Andrew Okello (27), a senior six drop out who got ten points in PEM, resident of Kanyagoga village, a suburb of Gulu town. He was admitted at the facility on October 3, 2019, having been dragged there forcefully by his grandmother because he had been high on drugs abuse and becoming a nuisance to the community.

“I no longer have stress and I feel relieved. I no longer look at life as I used to. I look at life in a more productive way. When I leave here, I want to go back to school and pursue a course in Mechanical engineering at Nakawa Vocational Institute and also upgrade my driving license from Class B to DM so that I upgrade to driving big trucks like trailers”, he assures me.

The New Vision newspaper of Friday, November 8, 2019 publish an article by Professor George B. Kirya titled; ‘ The Time Bomb of illicit drugs, alcohol abuse’ where he revealed that a study done reveals that drugs and substance abuse in schools in Uganda found that between 60 and 70 per cent of students used illicit drugs with alcohol.

“To patriotic Ugandans, it has become very worrying and astonishing to see that the general public in Uganda behaves as if they are not aware of how serious the problem of illicit drugs and alcohol abuse is in the country today”, writes the Professor.

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