Windhoek-Twenty-four years of working with alcohol and drug addicts has taught Verona Du Preez that “nobody is exempted from the pain and trauma of substance abuse by a loved one.”
“Working with addicts humbles you,” she sighs.
She has seen it all, the trauma, the desperation, the depression, the pain and hopelessness of addicts and their families seeking relief from the clutches of alcohol and substance abuse.
“We have had nurses, spiritual leaders, and teachers that were admitted at the centre. We have had Namibians from all spheres of life here,” the social worker says softly.
“It humbles you. The fact that you know that it could happen to any of your loved ones,” said Du Preez who welcomed New Era into her office at Etegameno Rehabilitation Centre on the outskirts of Windhoek.
Situated at the edge of the main road to Okahandja, Etegameno Rehabilitation Centre gives therapy to both alcohol and drug addicts who want to change their habits.
Du Preez explained the location is good for the addicts because it is far from the hustle and bustle of the city life, making the environment peaceful. Outside her office a few addicts share jokes. “I love the fact that it’s peaceful here. Working with these people requires social worker to be peaceful and composed despite their own personal problems,” she noted.
While growing up, Du Preez was exposed to an environment where alcohol abuse was the norm.
“When I grew up my father used to be an alcoholic. He used to be so addicted he even sold alcohol from home,” she says.
The environment was so contaminated that violence and confusion was all that the family was subjected to.
“I had to grow up very fast because I was the eldest. I had to clean up, pick up the cigarette butts and bottles. I had my own pain but I also visibly experienced the pain of being in an environment where there was so much violence and confusion as a result of the alcohol,” recounted Du Preez.
At an early age, Du Preez knew she wanted to help people overcome their alcohol and other addictions. She knew then that alcohol and drug abuse can destroy people and make them unproductive, having seen her own father who was a prisoner of his own addictions. Coincidentally, something unexpected happened to Du Preez’s father.
“When I turned 15 my father committed his life totally to Christ. He stopped alcohol and became very committed and a productive person. He is now a welder and he has his own business,” says Du Preez with a glint of pride in her eye.
Witnessing first hand from her father’s experience that there is hope for alcohol and substance abusers, Du Preez was convinced that social work was her calling.
“I saw somebody that quit from being total alcoholic who sold alcohol because he wanted to serve his own addictions to a productive man,” Du Preez added.
More than 30 years later, Du Preez’s father has kept the commitment of staying free from alcohol.
“He is still running his own business and I saw that it is possible to quit alcohol abuse. And, he also quit smoking,” she said.
Du Preez added: “He is more than 30 years smoke free. I literally had an encounter with a person that stopped on a personal level. So, when I grew up, my desire started in Grade 10 that I wanted to be a social worker.”
That was when she sought the counsel of practicing social workers on what is needed to become a social worker.
“They said that it mustn’t be a job but a calling because money will never keep you satisfied. It must be because you want to help another human being,” she informed this publication.
After studying for a qualification in social work, Du Preez’s first job experience was with alcoholics in Rehoboth, where she worked as a social worker.
At the tender age of 23, Du Preez started working in the Ministry of Health and Social Services in Rehoboth, where she coincidentally, also worked with alcohol addicts.
“The most tragic thing that can ever happen to any family is when a person becomes addicted to any intoxicating drugs, especially when it is a child that you really cared about and the child does not have any insight on what drugs do to their body,” says in a melancholy voice.
She then adds that, she has seen the despair in parents trying to assist children who are hooked on various substances.
“Families are exposed to extreme violence. Their thoughts and cognitive functions are numbed. They behave in total inappropriate ways. The effects of alcohol and substance abuse for affected families is bad,” she added.
Apart from dealing with the addictions, the affected families sometimes have to deal with the financial problems and diseases, often caused by these addictions, she observed.
“They have to feed this person. Many of our clients who abuse substances also develop mental problems,” said Du Preez.
Some of them suffer from health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure and HIV. The family has to make sure they have all these medications. It is difficult for families to live with an addict. They steal from the family to feed their addictions,” she added.
The biggest achievement for a client is to complete and commit to a life of sobriety, adds Du Preez. “We have to work five a half weeks on behaviour and thinking patterns and addictions that have been established for years,” she remarked.
“So now we as a therapeutic team have to break all those destructive patterns and direct that person to a thinking pattern that is healthy for him and his family,” she said.
Some of the clients are forced by circumstances to go for help at the centre either because of a pending divorce or pending court cases.
“I’ve seen clients that have made that commitment and stayed sober. I have seen clients that started their own businesses and those who went back to school and took up a profession.”
Etegameno Rehabilitation Centre employees do their best to assist those in need of rehabilitation.
The centre has a nurse, an occupational therapist, a social worker, a therapist who works with the mind and a psychologist. The psychologist mainly assesses clients.
“We need a psychological assessment on what the client is diagnosed with in order to work out a treatment plan,” she said. I have seen clients completing their treatment.
Etegameno rehabilitation centre
The centre, being the only government institution to rehabilitate alcohol and drug addicts was opened in 2002.
Admission of substance abuse clients only started in 2004.
So far, 610 patients were admitted at the centre. The in-patient programmes include fitness and health, therapeutic, outdoor programmes, vocational programmes.