On June 25, the students of Barakat’s Ersari Elementary School in Pakistan exited their classrooms, sat quietly and gave ten strangers their undivided attention.
The topic: a discussion about the prevention and harmful effects of drug use, which has remained a consistent issue, especially for many Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.
SUCH, an organization assisting the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHRC) gave the hour and a half presentation to more than 60 students, both girls and boys.
“They [SUCH] first talked with students about the effects of drugs, then presented a skit about what they’d discussed,” explained Abdul Rehman, the school supervisor who introduced the organization to Barakat’s schools and requested their visit.
Countering the gravity of the topic with a skit and treats for the children, the presentation proved to be both enlightening and entertaining for the students.
“The children were very happy to see all the materials, and they expressed wishes to bring their younger brothers and sisters [to the presentation],” added Rehman.
“I enjoyed the program,” said Rabia, a twenty-year-old female student in her fifth year of evening classes, who was in attendance. “The skit about the importance of education was the best. It is very important to bring this topic to us because young people are more easily trapped by drugs, and these programs can makes us more familiar with the dark aspects of addiction.”
“I will always keep a distance from drugs,” agreed a male sixth grader, Habib Ullah, 12, who also attended.
Although Rabia says that she does not use drugs, she admits that it is a problem in her community.
“It may be that some of my community members use these [drugs], but among all of these things, smoking is the most abundant,” she admitted.
Indeed, smoking has become an epidemic among Afghans and Afghan refugees in Pakistan, especially women. Following the discovery of this knowledge, Barakat launched an Anti-Smoking Campaign in May of 2008, to use education as a means to teach children about its devastating effects on their health.
But in addition to smoking, the use of narcotics is quite prevalent, too. According to UNHCR, at least one in twelve Afghan refugees uses drugs.
“None of our students use drugs,” said Rehman, “but, maybe someone in their family does. Refugees living in urban areas rarely use drugs, but refugees living in camps are often users. We must continue the campaign against drugs, and we should organize events like this in which children can visualize their negative effects.”
Rehman cites domestic problems, lack of education and in some cases, peer pressure as the main reasons that people may use drugs.
Rabia expressed the sentiments of the presentation, and Barakat’s mission, perfectly: educating our students goes far beyond addition and subtraction, verb tenses and timelines—it provides awareness.
“If I were to meet someone who used drugs, I will try to stop him by telling him about all of the information we got from the program, and we learn daily in school. While this program has added a lot to our knowledge, we also get lessons from our teachers on this topic. We are fully loaded to fight against this curse, and we can never adopt these kinds of bad habits, which destroy everything in a person’s life,” she said.
By: Lisa DeBenedictis