Unlocking alcohol’s grip on Basotho

Unlocking alcohol’s grip on Basotho

THABA-BOSIU – IT is arguably one of the biggest societal challenges facing Lesotho.
Yet it is one that is receiving the least of attentions with some individuals dismissing the problem as part of “our culture”.

“We start drinking at a very young age. We have been conditioned to think it’s the only way to have fun,” says Masebueng Majara, a community educator with Blue Cross, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to rehabilitate drug and alcohol addicts in Lesotho.

Majara says some youths blame poverty and joblessness for their drinking. They argue they need to drink to “bury their sorrows”. She says blaming poverty is a pathetic excuse.
Majara says even the poorest of the poor in the mountains engage in “productive activities like farming”.

“But here in Maseru you find people who go to bars and wait for friends to buy them some beer to forget their poverty.”

The culture of drinking has had tragic results for Lesotho. The result is that the country, which is battling other social ills like prostitution, is nurturing a generation of youths who are dependent on the bottle.

Without alcohol, such youths and many other adults can hardly function. While statistics may not be readily available, Majara, says there is overwhelming evidence to show “we have a serious alcohol abuse problem in the country”.

“When you go to the villages during weekends, you see young men gathered together. You might even think they are holding some traditional ceremony only to realise they are drinking,” she says.

Majara says it is not uncommon for such gatherings to end chaotically with fights, injuries and loss of lives. Unfortunately, their reliance on the bottle has had a devastating impact on the lives of people in Lesotho.

Alcohol and drugs such as marijuana are openly grown in some villages in Lesotho.
Majara says their mission at Blue Cross is to help untangle alcohol’s destructive grip on Basotho.

Blue Cross assists individuals between the ages of 13 and 60.
But that has not been easy. She says her role at Blue Cross is to “create awareness in the community about the harmful effects of alcohol and drugs”.

Creating awareness is a good thing. However, the challenge comes with what people do with that awareness. That has proven the tricky part.

“We have a number of cases of relapse mostly where young ones were brought to the centre by concerned parents or spouses,” she says.

“Those who do not come of their own accord are at greater risk of relapse.”
She says they work on the premise that “addiction is a chronic illness” and that those who check themselves in at the centre “need strong determination to quit”.
Without such a strong personal determination, individuals are often at greater risk of a relapse, she says.

“It’s not easy for people to let go of their old ways of doing things,” she says.
Majara says their programme seeks to educate people on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.

“We educate them on how the drugs damage their bodies so that they can be able to make informed decisions.”

The centre in Thaba-Bosiu keeps individuals for a period of three months. At present there are 22 individuals including two women who are receiving treatment. However, Majara admits that even after going through the three months treatment programme, the individuals still have to go back home “where there is a bar next to their homes”.

Majara says the centre is however battling to keep people away from drugs, particularly marijuana, better known in Lesotho as matekoane which she says “is found all over”.
She says although the plant is illegal some people have resorted to growing it “for economic purposes”.

“We work with the police to sensitise people on the dangers of drugs and encourage compliance with the law.”

She says most of the people who engage in alcohol and drugs abuse do so as a result of peer pressure.

Majara says the collapse of the institution of the family is having a negative impact on youths in Lesotho. That is because the extended family which in the past acted as a social safety net has virtually collapsed.

“The children are being left to fend for themselves,” she says.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic has worsened the crisis with many child-headed families battling to eke a living on their own. Majara adds that some of the young children are “prone to all sorts of manipulation by older ones”.

The girls are falling victim to sexual abuse and early marriages with promises that they would be able to take care of their siblings, she says.
Blue Cross began operations in 1991.

Majara says the centre is 100 percent behind the government’s attempt to come up with an alcohol policy for Lesotho to mitigate the harmful effects of alcohol.

While things might be rosy today, Majara has not always had it easy in life; her father, who worked in the mines in South Africa, died after suffering from a chest illness in 1980 when she was 15.

She suspects the cause of death was silicosis.
After finishing her Standard Seven, Majara could not proceed to secondary school because the “family did not have any money”.

Fortunately, her brother got a job in the mines enabling her to resume her studies at Berea High School in 1980. She completed her Cambridge Overseas School Certificate in 1984.
A year after, she got married to her husband who worked in the mines in South Africa, putting some brakes on her desire to proceed with her education.

That however did not impede her desire to pursue an education. Majara later enrolled with the Institute of Extra-Mural Studies of the National University of Lesotho in Maseru for a certificate in adult education in 1999. In 2003, she enrolled for a diploma in adult education and later graduated with a degree in adult education in 2007.

Staff Reporter

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