I have a drug problem.

I don’t use them, but they still affect me. This is Alison’s story.

The age when kids start drinking is around 14 and when we started out, the Matric pass rate was 62%.

Fierce and passionate, Alison Carstens is the founder of the Mudita Foundation, a service that realised the need to introduce an outpatient substance misuse programme to youth at risk of developing substance use disorders and to support them, and their families and affected communities in the Eerste River area. This is her story.

“I have been involved with youth at risk in the Eerste River community since 2006. My experiences range from working with institutionalised youth to working with youths in their school environment. As an Educational Psychologist I’ve wanted to find a way to address the substance abuse issue and provide an in-depth service, and in 2011 we piloted the first programme at a school in Eerste River.

The age when kids start drinking is around 14 and when we started out, the Matric pass rate was 62%. Three years later we have raised it by 20%. We walk the road with a child, and don’t let go. The longer you can be with a child, the better the outcome. If we see a glimmer of hope, we will hold on to a child. I have seen how important it is for a child to know that they can trust us — a trust we build over the 4-month programme that includes testing, counselling and support.

I remember a very specific day when I arrived at school as the police were arresting a Grade 10 pupil for possession of dagga. They took him to the police station before I could intervene. I followed up the moment I could, to make sure he didn’t enter prison and the court system. We walked a long road, and he completed Grade 12 in 2013.

Substance abuse affects entire families. I’ve seen how a small change in a child’s behaviour is the light in their parent’s life. A father came to me once after we had treated his son, and said ‘My child is your child’. It’s incredible to see when our work spills over into the community with parents being grateful. We build relationships that last for years.

The kids who come through our programme really want to make a difference. We get all of them involved in open discussions to facilitate insights. This is a great way to get the teenagers to learn from each other, and to be heard by their peers.

I always remain an advocate for the children. What you say to a child today can have lifelong impact.”

If you have a problem or know of someone that needs help, call the City of Cape Town 24-hour drug helpline on 0800 4357 48. For more stories, follow the #ihaveadrugproblem hashtag.

Let’s kick Cape Town’s drug problem, together.

This initiative was made possible by the City of Cape Town, Making Progress Possible. Together.

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