'From Saul to Paul'; A story of Iwawa's relentless drug rehabilitation path


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'From Saul to Paul'; A story of Iwawa's relentless drug rehabilitation path

Yanditswe Jan, 17 2020 08:58 AM

Substance abuse has destroyed the lives of many Rwandan youth, with society throwing in the towel on many of them. However, a group of people on the far off Island of Iwawa have been working tirelessly to not only restore hope to the delinquents but more so to transform their lives. This is the story of ''Saul to Paul'' the drug rehabilitation path.

Drug abuse has been the undoing of many young people in the country with a 2018 mental health survey by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre showing that 1.6 per cent of the youth in the country suffer from drug and alcohol-related disorders.

However, for the Rwandan government, the youth; delinquents or not, are all part of the country's future. Even President Paul Kagame has not shied away from warning the youth about the dangers of substance abuse.

In efforts to rehabilitate drug addicts and help them become productive members of the society, the Rwandan government established the Iwawa Rehabilitation Centre.

Iwawa Rehabilitation Centre is located on a small beautiful Island within Lake Kivu in Rutsiro District in Rwanda’s Western Province.

At the entrance of the Men’s Only Rehab Centre is a huge block with many writings on it, but what is most striking is the scripture-drawn-phrase written in Kinyarwanda “Uwari Sawuli yahindutse Pawulo” which loosely translated means ‘Saul has changed to Paul.’ The writing is probably a hint of the magnitude of the work done at the rehabilitation Centre to transform the lives of the men.

Their day begins at 4.30 AM. While some sweep the compound, others prepare the cups for breakfast. After the chores, breakfast is served.

Like clockwork, the men know exactly where they are meant to be and at what time. They seamlessly shift from one activity to the next with little supervision.

As explained by DR. JEAN DAMASCENE NSHYIMIMANA, the Director of the Iwawa Rehab Centre was established in 2010 and has over 4000 trainees.

Addiction is said to be more than a physical dependence on drugs and alcohol.  Counseling is therefore recommended as the foundation of substance abuse treatment for many people.

Venuste Habimana, a Clinical Psychologist at the Iwawa Rehab Centre says that the huge number of patients per psychologist is one of the main challenges they face at the Rehab centre.

"Our daily work as clinical psychologists entails listening to the numerous problems and issues of these men.  They offload on us but we do not have an outlet. There is something called stress management which is used in psychology where the clinical psychologists meet and debrief. So we lack that here and we suffer burnout. The other challenge we have is that we are a few clinical psychologists serving a huge number of clients," Habimana said. 

As a result of substance abuse, some of the men at the rehab center have health challenges including Tuberculosis, Hepatitis, HIV/AIDs, and Hemorrhoids among others. Those that are sick receive medical care and have a special meal plan that includes taking milk every day.

The Iwawa Rehab Centre has a broad spectrum of people from young men who come from rich and affluent backgrounds to poor orphans who mostly lived on the streets. From graduates and professionals to those who can neither read nor write. However, they all have a common denominator; drug-abuse.

Meet Antoine Dushimimana, also know as Young Ton. He is known for featuring in the popular gospel song ‘Amahoro.’  His story begins in the United States of America from where he was deported for selling drugs.

Theophile Hakizimana is a telecoms engineer who has worked with different companies and even had the privilege of being part of the team that built the renowned Kigali Convention Centre.  However, as he explains, he lost it all to alcohol and drug abuse.

He said; "I was an alcoholic, mostly taking hard liquor. But before that, I worked in different places including a construction company as a technician. Afterward, I worked with another company that provided lighting to residential homes and I also had the privilege to work with the Turkish team that was building the Kigali Convention Centre as a technician but because of alcoholism, I found myself in Iwawa,"

Other vocational skills offered at the Rehab center include masonry, tailoring, agriculture, computer skills as well as motorbike riding.

The men at the Rehab center are taught the value of working with their hands with all chores carried out by the trainees including cooking and milking the cows.

Studies have shown that sports and fitness therapies are quite effective in developing wellness and assist those that are recovering from drug addiction.

Every year, the Iwawa Rehab center receives between 1500 and 3000 trainees.  10% of those who graduate relapse and mostly find themselves back at the Island for more rehabilitation. According to Dr. Jean Damascene Nshimiyimana, the community has a role to play in the re-integration process.

This is VALENS RUKUNDO. He graduated from Iwawa Rehabilitation Center in 2015 and was taken in by Hope Ethiopia Rwanda that works in collaboration with the Rehab center to help re-integrate graduates. Through their help, Valens now works at the Gahanga Cricket stadium.

He, however, laments that since he left Iwawa, he has faced a lot of stigma from society.

Rukundo told RBA; "When you leave Iwawa and join the society, you meet people who say ‘look at these good for nothings who’ve come from Iwawa,’ and that makes us lose hope because we have done everything possible to change but nobody sees it. They all stigmatize us."

According to Emmanuel Sagahutu who works with Hope Ethiopia Rwanda, stigmatizing those that have gone through the rehab centers serves to close opportunity doors for the rehabilitation graduates and leads to eventual relapse cases.

"This is a war that we all need to fight. So I urge the Rwandan society not to stigmatize these young men and instead receive them as they would any recovering patient. When we stigmatize them, they don’t get jobs because most people claim that they have not changed, yet anybody can change," Sagahutu said. 

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