After 15 years, the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA) is hailing the successes of its transitional drug awareness summer programme for children who took part and their families.
Entitled Project SOFT (Safeguarding Our Future Today) is designed to discourage children from experimenting with illegal drugs and highlights the dangers of drug addiction.
Coordinator of the programme, Makeda Bourne, told Barbados TODAY: “One of the ways we know it has impacted families is that we have had people refer families to the project, most of those who have come in over the past ten years have come based on recommendations from families who have come through it. Also, unlike other summer programmes we remain in the children’s lives for three years to help them and their families.”
Her colleague, Programme Officer, Paulavette Atkinson, noted that this approach was successful.
“We usually cater to 40 children each year, and evidence has shown that in the three years we maintain relationships with the children, their parents, teachers and guidance counsellors, on average only one or two children have ended up getting involved in drug use.”
Atkinson added that there was an equal participation by boys and girls, and they were selected from Barbados’ private and public primary schools via referrals from teachers, social workers, and increasingly over the past ten years, families who benefited from the project in the past.
Bourne said: “It is a programme aimed at preventing drug use and encouraging the participants to educate their peers on the dangers of substance abuse. Children have different challenges, and if we identify any behavioural problems while they are in the camp we intervene by talking to both the children and their families.”
Project SOFT also specifically targets children between the ages of ten and 12 who are taking the Common Entrance Examination and transitioning from primary to secondary school, specifically because “international research has shown that any time someone is going through a transitional phase in their lives, it causes stress and unfortunately some turn to drugs to relieve it”.
There are two main elements of the camp. This year, the children spent a week at Marion Retreat House in St John, where they took part in a range of activities.
“This showed them how to have fun without resorting to drugs,” Bourne noted, adding, “First, they had to wake up at 5 a.m. and make sure their rooms were tidy. There was exercise, sessions dealing with decision making, anger management, HIV/AIDS, effective communication, social graces, etiquette, and stress management. They also had fun activities like roasting breadfruit, a night time treasure hunt, a talent show and a sports day where they learned about teamwork.”
The second part of the camp included sessions at the NCSA’s Belleville offices which brought the children, their parents and other relatives together with counsellors.
The camp coordinator added: “Children have different challenges, and if we identify any problems while in the camp we intervene on the spot, and we talk to both the children and their families.”
The NCSA officers were speaking after Project SOFT received a financial boost from the Insurance Corporation of Barbados Limited (ICBL). Senior Vice President and head of ICBL’s life insurance division, Henry Inniss, said: “We have a vested interest in ensuring that people remain healthy, as today’s children are tomorrow’s workforce, and we look forward to supporting this programme for a long time.”