September 5, 2011
In the last few days there has been a spate of incidents of students and drug peddlers being caught in and around Mangalore for possession of drugs. Their arrest has given credence to the fears of parents and widespread murmurs from all concerned about Mangalore becoming a den of drug users and peddlers who are primarily targeting the cream of our population – the youth. Needless to say an epidemic of such diabolical and monstrous magnitude calls for a systematic, logical and community based approach to find a lasting solution. One such organization which has been working interminably for the wellness and welfare of all sorts of addicts in Mangalore for the last two decades is Link Integrated Rehabilitation Centre for Addicts, Mangalore. This organization has recently completed 20 years in the service of humanity to emerge as a trusted and credible centre to treat and rehabilitate those who fall prey to addiction and want to come out of it.
This charitable organization, a project of Link Anti Addiction Citizens Committee, has recently been shifted to the new 50-bedded fully furnished two-storey premises at J M Road in Bajal, Mangalore, which is donated by NRI businessman and philanthropist Ronald Colaco. Though the centre is functioning from the new premises from November last, the official donation of this new building constructed at a cost of Rs 3.75 crores by Colaco, will be done shortly. With this gift the need of Link to have a permanent roof of its own is fulfilled and it is sure to give a fillip to the centre to carry on with its work of creating a better society.
This de-addiction centre provides succor to those addicts who want to come out of the mess they have found themselves in and want to mend their delinquent lifestyle which is self-destructive and is deleterious not only to themselves but also to their family and to the society. In this noble task Link is guided by its principle objective of enheartening the enfeebled minds and souls and become their savior. It wants the prevention and management of chemical substance abuse with timely intervention and through such efforts ensures that we have healthy individuals and a healthy society. What is more, Link has been going about this task for the last two decades without much ado and with great effervescence and felicity.
In the last two decades Link has treated more than 12,000 families addicted to alcohol and drugs from different parts of Karnataka through its residential treatment programmes and community-based rural de-addiction camps, which gives us a sleaze of the enormity of the number of people who fall prey to this pernicious evil. That the organization boasts of 75% success rate speaks highly about the good work it has been doing in this field. With fresh details emerging about more and more teenagers getting addicted to drugs in Mangalore and in different parts of the state, is certainly a cause to worry. That is why organizations like Link come to play a quintessential role in safeguarding and promoting the health of the society. Lydia Lobo, who has been working as its Administrator for the last 1 ½ years after T S Thomas had managed the centre rendering 18 years of valuable service, says “our study shows that youngsters in the age group of 16-18 are highly vulnerable to drugs as the modern lifestyle and college atmosphere is conducive for such clandestine activities. Hence we have been targeting college students in our awareness camps”.
Link- an Offshoot of College Project
Link De-Addiction Centre had its origin in a college project which subsequently became a student movement and took strong roots as an anti addiction centre. It was initially started as a charitable society in 1991 in School of Social Work, Roshni Nilaya and under the initiative and leadership of a dynamic social work student T S Thomas. It was registered as a society in 1992 with Ronald Colaco as its founder President. Under his tutelage Link slowly emerged as de-addiction centre of repute attracting addicts from different parts of Mangalore. Initially it functioned from a 5-bed room at Colaco Hospital which later got shifted to S L Mathias Road. From 2000 it was functioning from Bolar as a 20-bed de-addiction centre until coming to the present premises at Bajal. In its incipient stage it was Ronald Colaco who nurtured this centre by bearing all the expenses completely. Initially it was known as Link TRADA (Total Responsibility in Alcohol and Drug Abuse) because of its collaboration with Kottayam based TRADA.
In its present premises Link has a capacity to accommodate 50 patients and on an average 25 to 30 patients take treatments as in-patients. Unlike earlier where they could not accommodate women as inpatients, there is a provision at the present premises to treat women patients separately. In 1998 the centre got recognition from the Central government’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in the form of an annual grant of Rs. 6 lakhs. As this grant is suffice to take care of only 15 patients and government pays minimum salary for a limited number of staff Ronald Colaco has been paying for the expenses of other patients and also towards the salary expenses of the staff working at the centre.
This centre is headed by a Management committee comprising people from all walks of life including doctors and social workers. These meet once a month to chalk out various programmes and strategies and provide an effective mechanism to deal with the perils of drugs and alcohol. The centre has 14 staff including administrative staff, counselors, medical officers, yoga staff, residential counselors and housekeeping staff in addition to a few doctors working on honorary basis.
The present premise is idyllic and both patients and the staff have taken a liking for the place which is quite airy and spacious. Even patients have taken a fancy for the place which with its pristine and green surrounding has a balmy impact on them especially when they are recuperating being from their homes.
As a de-addiction centre Link’s popularity has spread far and wide and patients flock to this centre from different parts of the state. Most of the patients are sent by ex-patients whose account of the total atmosphere and treatment given acts as a catalyst of attracting patients. It goes to the credit of Link that it has attracted patients from states like Kerala, Maharashtra, Goa and even some patients from the Middle East during their vacation have been treated at the centre. Link has also collaborated with various NGO’s and conducted a large number of awareness and training camps and outreach programmes. The best part is that recovered patients provide free publicity for the centre.
The de-addiction centre has a one month course for the patients that begin with detoxification, medical and nursing care, psychiatric sessions, yoga therapy, group therapy and orientation programmes. Treatment programme also include collecting feedback, counseling, providing inputs and motivation sessions and other activities. Neri Wilfred Pinto, who is one of the chief motivators and one of the oldest staff of the centre, says “it takes 3 days to one week for the patients to get motivated as many of them suffer from mood variations. We take feedback of the patients from their family members also which helps us to get to the root of the problem. We also conduct counseling for their family members as we feel family plays a crucial role in the recovery of the patients”. As a recovered addict Neri is aware of the turmoil and foibles of the patients and is quite effectual as a motivator. He says there are four types of Alcoholics namely social drinkers, those who drink rarely, addicts who need regular but limited dose of alcohol and finally alcoholics.
There are a few instances of relapses says Lydia Lobo, which she says are negligible compared to those who recover fully. To ensure that the motivation of the patients remains unswerving, recovered patients are motivated to attend regular Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sessions. Neri hastens to add that “AA is considered as the last address to the alcoholics”. The centre also keeps a tab on the recovered patients by keeping in touch with them and with their family. This is necessary because as Neri puts it “there are instances of relapses even after 20 or 25 years and an alcoholic can never become a social drinker”.
Gone is the taboo associated with coming to de-addiction centre as in the recent years the centre has been receiving many drug addicts who come for treatment. These drug addicts are treated with counseling and therapeutic assistance by the Link team as it calls for combined efforts and team work to get them back to normalcy. Several drugs are sold clandestinely in the markets aimed at youngsters who become slaves of pills like ecstasy, designer party drugs, opium and inhalers provided by shadowy network dealers. That is why in the recent past we have also been witnessing an increase in alcoholics and druggists, who in the process of destroying themselves spoil the family atmosphere by creating mayhem at their homes. In other words, addiction has become a social disease, a curse, an epidemic, an anathema and an evil that needs to be fought on a war footing and with a sense of purpose. Link is doing this noble, marvelous and valuable service in bringing back our human resource that is treading in the wrong path.
Interview with Ronald Colaco, Founder President of Link De-Addiction Centre
Q. Link De-Addiction Centre has completed 20 years of service. What do you feel considering that you are associated with it since its inception?
A. I am happy to say Link is my baby and it has come of age. It has been a satisfying experience and I am glad I am involved with it from its inception. I wanted this centre to be the catalyst to help and treat people before they become addicts as I subscribe to the he motto of prevention is better than cure. It is a matter of immense satisfaction that Link has succeeded in accomplishing this objective to a great extent.
Q. What prompted you to get associated with Link De-Addiction Centre?
A. My initial involvement started when a group of students of Roshani Nilaya came to me for financial help for conducting a pivotal survey of 32 colleges of the district as part of their project to find out the number of students addicted to drugs and alcohol. While providing help I pointed out the lacunae in their questionnaire which was more direct and would have got only negative response from the respondents. I guided them to ask questions in a positive way so as to elicit explicit response and the survey was successful. I had also put one condition to the students to keep the results of the survey confidential to avoid creating unnecessary ruckus among parents and students.
Q. What was the result of the survey?
A. This survey was like an eye opener which showed that 12.5% of the students were using drugs or alcohol and surprisingly most of the colleges were not ready to accept them. Moreover it also revealed that 1/3 of these users were becoming addicts. So the survey gave us an idea about of the enormity of the problem of drug abuse.
Q. What made you evince such keen interest in this social evil of drug addiction and Alcoholism?
A. Having worked in the US, Europe and the Middle East I was conscious of the fact that a large number of youth were involved in chemical substance abuse there. Their respective governments failed to respond seriously to the issue in the initial years because they had other serious problems on their agenda. When they finally realized that 60% of their youth were addicted to various abuses they set aside lot of funds and took many initiatives to deal with the situation. Having observed that situation I was aware of the gravity of the problem on hand here mainly because Dakshina Kannada has students studying from more than 38 countries in various institutions and I felt that the possibility of students falling prey to these abuses is high. I wanted to do something from my side to tackle the problem in the early stages itself.
Q. Is that what prompted you to become the Founder President of Link De-Addiction Centre?
A. Though Link was established in 1991 it was registered as a Society in 1992 and I was elected as the Founder President in absentia by the members. That got me fully involved with the centre and T S Thomas, who as the student leader of the group that had approached me for help, was appointed as the Project Coordinator. He was extremely good in formalizing various programmes to create awareness and was instrumental in building Link from scratch thus giving an impetus to the various activities we undertook from time to time.
Q. How did you zero in on the name “Link” to this organization?
A. Our logo of interlocked hands clearly symbolizes our motto of linking back those who are cut off from the realities of life and help them rebuild their disheveled lives. Naturally we decided that it is appropriate to name it as “Link”.
Q. What was the Strategy Link adopted in the early stages to make its presence felt?
A. To begin with, we succeeded in creating anti-addiction cells in colleges involving one lecturer and about 9 volunteers including student leader. Link did not believe in directly involving in colleges and hence campaigning was carried out through these cells. The first major campaign was in the form of slogan competition for the students with an incentive of 20 cash prizes. We wanted the students to clearly apply their mind to the issue of addiction to chemical substances and the competition was the best instrument to draw their attention. The competition received overwhelming response from all the 32 colleges and the best 20 entries were chosen by a panel of 3 eminent citizens. The slogan that was chosen for the first prize read - “puffs, sips, pills thrills but kills”, which was germane to our motto.
Q. Was there any other way you involved the college students directly in creating awareness?
A. In 1993 we organized anti-addiction week to create awareness and we succeeded in involving all sections of the society in the campaign. For 7 days we had arranged different sessions to elicit response to drug addiction to drugs, alcohol and tobacco from students, teachers, religious leaders, legal personalities, parents and finally response of the society. The students presented skits to give awareness to the parents on where they are erring vis-a-vis in bringing up children and also the need to maintain a strict vigil in their changing behavior, if any from time to time.
Q. Link had a coup of sort by organizing a student’s marathon with police support when there was Bharat Bandh?
A. It was a feather in the cap of Link that in 1993 we organized a marathon and unfortunately there was Bharat Bandh on that day. The marathon involved carrying the “torch of hope” from 4 corners of the district namely Konaje, Nitte, Manipal and Dharmasthala and the torch of hope to be gathered at the Nehru Maidan. The then DIG Bhonsle gave encouragement and protection for the marathon as a quid-pro-quo for having saved 8 of their policemen through the Link De-Addiction centre. These campaigns helped us to create awareness about drug abuse and also about Link.
Q. Was Link De-addiction Centre your first major involvement in social work field?
A. My first involvement in social service in Dakshina Kannada was by helping to set up Xavier Educational Trust. But Link is the first major organization in which I immersed myself fully during the initial period by staying back in Mangalore when my family was living in Bangalore. I was so involved in its initial development my family even remarked that I was getting addicted to Link de-addiction centre. It gives me immense joy when I see the smiles on the family members of the recovered patients. I remember one lady who had come for counseling with her husband proudly lifting up the hand of her husband and saying ‘yes now I lift his hand in joy’ and that scene brought tears of joy in my eyes. I enjoy that happiness of Linking back the distraught families.
Q. What impelled you to donate the present premises to Link De-Addiction Centre?
A. In Bolar we were operating from a place which we had taken on lease from School of Social Work, Roshani Nilaya. When they said they wanted premises back for their use we were in a quandary. Having built this institution with so much care I was determined not to allow the centre to flounder. I bought this half done hospital at Bajal and got it completed and now the centre is functioning from this new address for the last few months. It will be donated to Link after the formal inauguration of the premises, to be held soon.
Q. Do you have plans to make Link self sustaining?
A. It is my aim to make Link to stand on its own by setting up a separate source of fund to bridge the gap of running the centre. I have set up a nursing women’s hostel, which is now ready so that the income generated from that hostel can be used for running the de-addiction centre. That is my long term dream. I am grateful to the Managing trustee members for their relentless work and unstinted support to make Link what it is today. It is their initiative and commitment which prompted me to donate this premises to the de-addiction centre. The Managing Trustee comprises Dr Satheesh Rao – Working President, Dr Olinda Pereira, Vice President, Dr Praksh Therian, Vice President, Austin Peres, Secretary, Judith Mascarenhas, Treasurer and Abdul Rauif Puttige, Dr Ravish Thunga, Denis D Silva and Roshan Castelino as executive members. With the involvement of such passionate and committed people Link has been able to emerge as a reputed and trustworthy de-addiction centre.