Letters — 14 June 2007 — by Pat Asling
Tues. 12 June 2007
It was with a great deal of interest, and I must say, some cynicism, that I read the article in The Belize Times, June 10 edition, headlined “GOB Gets Tough On Tobacco Use”. Oh yes, if implemented across the board, with equality and fairness to all, and with proper enforcement, all the proposed measures are great and should lead to a positive result, even though some of the measures will not be in effect until 3-5 years in the future. My concern is-What is happening in the meantime?
For 9 years I was an active member of the Cayo Drug Demand Reduction Task Force, a group consisting of from 6-15 dedicated persons, willing to work, not just having their name on paper. Under Mr. Armando Chulin, Coordinator, we carried out a number of educational programs in the Cayo schools – there are now over 60 primary schools, at least 10 high schools and any number of pre-schools. This adds up to a very great number of children and youth that can be informed and empowered about the damages of drug abuse, any drug, not just the legal ones, which are the most insidious.
In 1993 the first Drug Quiz was held in Benque Viejo. It was so successful that a couple of years later the head office of NDACC (National Drug Abuse Control Council) in Belize City took it over and it became a national event.
This one event was responsible for educating thousands of children and youth all over the country, on a systematic and continuous fashion. In Cayo we did other programs such as checkpoints with police and traffic officers; handing out booklets and brochures to drivers. We had a newsletter called “The Messenger” which went to all schools; we hosted workshops for teacher liaisons and parents; produced handbooks for teachers and parents and booklets for students; held drug-free concerts and many other activities to involve the youth.
Two years ago Mr. Chulin retired – poof! The thing dead!!! No coordinator was hired, or the post even advertised as far as we know. There are at least 4 positions in the head office unfilled after many years; nothing is heard from the other district coordinators. Here was a vibrant, effective way of reaching the vulnerable youth, but now it will take thousands of dollars for the next project. Meanwhile, a whole generation is falling through the cracks, and drug dealing and use are major contributors to the violence rocking Belize.
On Saturday, June 9, I attended Sacred Heart College graduation. How heartening it was to see, out of those who made the honour roll, three of the top students who were winners of the drug quiz and either won scholarships, computers or both. They had seized the chance and made good use of something which would not have been theirs except for the Drug Quiz competition. It is two school years now when there has not been a quiz, no opportunity for children to learn the facts. Yes, there were trained teacher liaisons but they need encouragement and resources to continue their mission.
To all intents and appearances, NDACC is dead in the water. Please, if you want this new program to impact, get back the priority on revitalizing NDACC – it needs CPR and then the children and youth will get the early information necessary to safeguard them. Wake up the life-guard before it is too late.
Pat Asling, Benque Viejo