On the edge of the Turbo forest, John Wandubiri tends to his farm, grateful that his life has turned out this way.
Mr Wandubiri, a reforming alcohol and substance abuser, finds it difficult to believe he has come out of it alive and is now in a money-making venture.
“My life was in pieces. My family disintegrated and no one wanted to be associated with me. Even my own parents disowned me due to my addiction,” recalls Mr Wandubiri, who used bhang for almost two years.
Now, Mr Wandubiri, 29, one of 900 recovering addicts from Uasin Gishu and its environs under the care of Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) in partnership with Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH), is happy to be alive.
The programme provided him with capital to start a business, and with the Sh1,000 he got, he now earns about Sh10,000 a day at the peak of harvesting season for his horticulture business.
“When I was still smoking bhang, I was in total disarray. But after reforming and engaging in this project, I’m now a big relief to my family. My mother, who is elderly now, depends on me for her basic needs,” he said.
In Kaptechui village, Turbo, another 50 members of a group of recovering chang’aa addicts have a similar success story.
Macrane Changwon, who was a prominent chang’aa seller in the area and referred to as Mama Pima, said she had become miserable as she had to share her small income from her sales with the police, who always demanded bribes.
At some point, Ms Changwon said, all her children had dropped out of school to join her in the business as she was not able to pay their school fees.
“I was perishing. I could not meet the basic needs of my family and with my children dropping out of school, there was really not much to hope for,” she explains.
Through the project, group members engage in poultry farming and horticulture, among other small projects to improve their livelihoods.
Selina Akiru, another reforming chang’aa dealer who is now the chair of the Murgus reforming addicts group, said that through table banking, members have started engaging in various projects to earn a living.
Group members intend to engage in dairy farming projects in future if they raise the required capital, she said.
“Though we have a challenge of capital, our members are planning to come up with a dairy animals’ project. Before reforming, life was hell under addiction to alcohol,” she said.
The group appealed to the government to look for an alternative approach of dealing with illicit alcohol in communities instead of arresting and charging brewers and addicts in court.
They want other means of earning money provided for them.
Empower reformed addicts
Julius Barasa, a community empowering officer with AMPATH, said the project has embarked on various projects to help addicts engage in meaningful work to earn a living and reduce addiction.
“AMPATH works with the community through projects such as agriculture and table banking so as to empower them economically as we create awareness among them on the impact of drug addiction to the society,” he said.
The programme teaches reformed addicts various skills to empower them economically, he said.
“When we empower reformed and recovering addicts, we minimise cases of relapse. The majority of addicts who have no meaningful source of earning a living easily go back to alcohol and substance abuse,” he said.
Dr Florence Jaguga, a psychiatrist with MTRH, attributed stigma and poverty to relapse among reforming addicts, a situation she said can only be addressed by giving them a chance to make money.
“Alcohol and substance abuse is a mental health issue which ought to be treated as any other health challenge where patients need moral support,” she said.
“We need to have treatment and prevention in social services within the healthcare system, by mainstreaming the treatment across all health sectors in the country.”
Dr Jaguga challenged the government to increase the number of rehabilitation centres.
“Resources for treatment of drug and substance addicts in Kenya are very scarce. We only have four rehabilitation facilities in the entire country to cater for people with addiction,” she said.
“Though much has been done by various organisations, a lot more needs to be done to cater for mental health.”