A report commissioned by the Ministry of Youth and ICT (MYICT) last year revealed that 52.5% of young Rwandans have tried a drug, including alcohol, and among them 5% tried an illegal substance, mainly marijuana. The report revealed high levels of alcohol consumption (34%) and tobacco (8.5%) among youth aged between 14 and 35. It is further estimated that one young man or woman out of every 13 is alcohol-dependent.
Among those young Rwandans was Jackson Nsengimana, 20, now a final year student in College APEREL, Nyabihu District. He started to engage in substance abuse in his first year of secondary school, and it was soon a downward spiral from then.
“3 years ago, I didn’t care about school at all. Since I was boarding at my school, I used to get caught many times trying to sneak out of the school. I wouldn’t care and I was not afraid to be expelled. I thought schools are everywhere; if I was expelled from one school, I’d move to another. The only thing that mattered to me then was to get with my guys and smoke, drink with the risk of committing various criminal acts. The end results were that I ended up repeating my first year twice” Jackson said.
Drugs and other substances abuse impact on the health and education of the Rwanda youth but also lead to another range of issues. Police records show that youth using drugs were prone to other criminal activities such as theft and underage prostitution. Compounding those problems are other adverse effects such as school abandonment, unexpected pregnancies and exposure to HIV and AIDS. The use of alcohol and drugs by the youth is not just an issue of criminal activity but also has long-term economic and social repercussions.
With the support of the One UN Rwanda, through the Promoting Access to Justice and Human Rights and Peace Consolidation programmme, the Rwanda National Police started a campaign to combat alcohol and drug abuse among the youth.
30 anti-drugs clubs were established in schools as a pilot programme. The anti- crime clubs were established as part of Community Policing activities by police with support from the ONE UN. Two students and one teacher were trained per selected school and supported to set up the anti-drugs campaign in their respective institutions. The clubs were designed to have a structure composed on the president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and advisors.
Assistant Inspector of Police Marie Rose Gahongayire, in charge of the Anti-Crime Clubs and Sensitization in the Community Policing, confirmed that the drug abuse among the youth is the highest reported crime. “To address these critical issues, it is important to understand the nature of their root causes to see how we address them together” she says.
Today, thanks to the anti-crime clubs like APEREL, young people like Jackson have managed to overcome their addictions and problems. Due to his drug and substance abuse problem, Jackson was almost expelled from school. Then the club intervened on his behalf and took on the responsibility to look after him. Jackson’s recovery took long but now he hopes to graduate as soon as possible.
“Today, I am living a whole new life. By being an active member of APEREL’s anti-crime club, I have learned the consequences of abusing drugs and illicit brews, I fully recovered and I now sensitize others. In fact, I have managed to sensitize six guys with whom I used to hang out. I am happy with my new life and have sworn to never go back to that kind of life I was living three years back” concluded Jackson.