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‘Harong Paglaom’ re-integrates drug users to their communities

By Gina V. Rodriguez LEGAZPI CITY --- Accompanying drug dependents on their journey to recovery is a “long and tedious process,” said a church worker involved with the Diocese of Legazpi’s community-based rehabilitation program for drug surrenderers who are on the watchlist under “Oplan Tokhang” -- a nationwide anti-illegal drugs law enforcement project. “We just cannot leave them after the 12-step therapy plan or they might have a relapse,” said Esperanza “Veron” Ariado, focal person of “Harong Paglaom,” a community-based rehabilitation program that was initiated by the diocese in October last year to respond to the big volume of surrenderers in the wake of Tokhang. She said Harong Paglaom, a project of the Social Action Center under the diocese, literally means “home of hope” that refers to the community approach in providing therapeutic treatment to substance users. Ariado said that during the launch of the project in November, Bishop Joel Baylon had envisioned a “community of homes of hope ready to welcome and accompany recovering substance users towards their hope for fullness of life.” “As the diocese’s program of pastoral care for substance users its foremost service is as a faith-based driven, family oriented, community-based rehabilitation (CBR) program,” she said. Ariado jointly supervises the project with Myrna Llanes, a social worker who also takes care of operational matters. The two are also among the 25 who volunteered as “recovery coaches” for the project. These volunteers that included a parapsychologist, nurse, teacher, nuns and a former substance user who has been “clean” for 20 years now, continue to undergo a series of trainings by specialists engaged in the treatment of drug addiction cases. “The City Health Office, City and Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Councils or CADAC and BADAC did the big job of getting the list of screened and assessed substance users who voluntarily surrendered to the police during the Tokhang operations,” said Ariado. She said the barangay captains had coordinated with the families and substance users, particularly those deemed as “mild” and “moderate” cases, to participate in Harong Paglaom. There were 20 substance users from St. Joseph, the Husband of Mary Parish in Barangay Rawis and another 48 drug users from Barangay San Roque under St. Raphael the Archangel Parish who consented to be part of the project. They were mostly from the low-income informal sector group, earning daily wages as a construction worker, junk collector and other odd jobs with a number who are jobless. Most of them were male and heads of families with ages ranging from 17 to 70 years old. Ariado said the substance users were promised confidentiality in the stories they would share in the therapy sessions that follow the 12-step treatment plan known as “Narcotics Anonymous Modified.” “A supervising coach is aided by two facilitators in handling a group of around eight to ten substance users who undergo recovery sessions once a week with each session stretching for as long as four to five hours,” she said. Ariado said the sessions, which are usually held on Sundays are expected to be completed within a six-month time frame. She said among the 20 from Barangay Rawis who have initially enlisted in the project, 18 have actually joined the group sessions that started in November and still are under “ongoing group therapy sessions.” “Among the participants from Barangay San Roque, 11 have actually participated (from the 48 who enlisted) in the therapy sessions and have completed the six-month treatment plan,” she said. Ariado said dealing with the mental health issues of the participant is not an easy process. She said the individual substance user opens his “wounds” in the therapy sessions while the group members participate in the healing process and hope for a “closure” in the wounds that have been shared. Even after the substance users have completed the 12-step therapy sessions, she added the “after care” is just as important in helping them reintegrate to their families in the communities where there is a strong stigma attached to being a drug user. She said the recovery coaches even conduct home visits to find out if the substance users have gained acceptance. Ariado noted that one “positive” outcome which she noticed from one of the participants to the project is that his wife has started talking to him. “The husband started selling barbecue in the community and was giving his wife his daily earnings,” she said. More than six months since being involved in Harong Paglaom Ariado said she keeps on reminding herself of the project’s mission so she could continue helping the substance users with their journey in the road to recovery. As first articulated by Bishop Baylon during the project launch, this mission is to help the substance users return to the “home where one feels the love of family and friends, and the healing embrace of God’s love.”

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