Feeling ‘90 per cent stronger’: Families in the Philippines help prevent drug abuse

Feeling ‘90 per cent stronger’: Families in the Philippines help prevent drug abuse

Rowena Cruz participated in the Strong Families programme run by the local government through the Anti-drug Abuse Council of Pasig (ADCOP) and backed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Ahead of World Drug Day marked annually on 26 June, Daniel Dickinson spoke to her as well as mother-of-five, Arlene Alvarez and their respective daughters Angelique and Wasmiya. He also met Zenaida Concepcion, an anti-drug abuse officer for Pasig.

Arlene Alvarez (left) and Rowena Cruz (right) and their daughters Wasmiya and Angelique met at the Strong Families Programme in Pasig City, Philippines.

Rowena Cruz: I have three children aged 18, 16 and 10, and became concerned about my son, the middle child, when he grew more detached and unable to talk about his problems. There are people selling illegal drugs in our neighbourhood so I was concerned he was being influenced by them, although he told me he never took drugs. He was also depressed and had expressed suicidal thoughts and the whole family was feeling stressed.

Arlene Alvarez: I spent six years as a domestic worker in Kuwait and didn’t see my five children during that time. Up until my return in 2020, they were looked after by my aunt as I am a single mother.

I was informed by a friend three years ago that my son was smoking marijuana and of course I was worried that other young people would lead him to other harder drugs. I felt a big gap between myself and the children because of my absence so wanted to join the Strong Families programme to learn how to communicate with them better and to help them make more informed decisions.

Genaida Concepcion is an anti-drug abuse officer in Pasig City.

Zenaida Concepcion: Filipino people, and especially parents often do not express their emotions. This can lead to stress, and stressed children can be influenced by other young people, especially when it concerns drugs. That’s why open communication within the family is very important as a preventative measure.

When we started the Strong Families programme in 2019 the Philippines was in the midst of the war against drugs and so people were extremely nervous about even talking about drugs and service providers did not offer community-based solutions to abuse. The Philippines has very severe drug laws; you can be sent to prison for up to 12 years just for being in possession of drug paraphernalia.

Rowena Cruz: I participated in the Strong Families programme with Angelique and I learned a lot about how to communicate more openly. I made progress after I recognized, along with my husband, that as parents we don’t always have the answers; we are not always right. My son is doing better now and can talk to me about his life and recently asked about what he should give his girlfriend as a present. I suggested a teddy bear.

Angelique: It was a good programme. I became closer to my brother and sister; I used to feel jealous about how close they were. My sister knows more of my secrets because she is a girl. I told her about what I had learned with my mum and she listened. My brother now helps me when I draw.

Wasmiya enjoyed playing with balloons at the Strong Families programme..

Wasmiya enjoyed playing with balloons at the Strong Families programme..

Arlene Alvarez: As a parent, Strong Families helped me to be more patient and to pay more attention to my children’s needs.  They are now able to speak to me about their feelings and they are now good at asking each other how they are doing. My son is doing well, he understands that talking about issues like drugs can help as he will feel less peer pressure. He has his own child now so I am a grandmother.

Wasmiya: At the meetings we attended, I liked playing with the balloons, but not so much the drawing. At school my favourite subject is English and I like playing volleyball.

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