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Saartjie Baartman Centre launches new drug centre for women

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While society to a large extent ostracizes drug addicts, in particular mothers who abuse narcotics, one organization has instead provided drug-addicted mothers with a platform to deal with their struggles. The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children on Thursday launched a new residential wing, which will provide specialized substance abuse treatment interventions for abused women. The event which was hosted at the centre, was attended by an array of organizations, including the Women’s Legal Centre and was also supported by the Department of Social Development in the Western Cape.

Speaking at the event, director of the centre, Shaheema McLeod explained that centre initiated the expansion project in response to a need to eradicate substance abuse that appears to plague Cape Flats communities.

She said many of the centre’s patients, while being administered as victims of abuse or domestic violence, appeared to all present a common trend of substance abuse.

“If we see a scenario where at least 80 per cent of our clients that walk through our intake programme are abusing some kind of substance, then it has to be dealt with,” McLeod stated.

Since women are seldom able to bring their children to addiction programmes, the centre designed a programme that assists women with dealing with their addiction, but also provides them with a safe haven to care for their children and eventually leave as more wholesome individuals and mothers.

McLeod added that the centre provides women with access to vital therapeutic services and skills training programmes, which assists women with gaining the strength and mental agility to remain substance free.

While the centre does assist women who are addicted to substances, she asserts that it is only able to facilitate the rehabilitation of women addicted to cannabis, tik, cocaine, mandrax, glue, and over the counter medication.

The centre is, therefore, not able to facilitate addictions that require medical attention.

In addition, she said that the centre has established an orientation unit in order to orientate patients on entry into the centre.

The orientation process is a two week long process for both mom and child.

“We can then sign contractual agreements with them, as well as conduct mental and medical assessments that is required for us to provide real intervention in these individuals lives.”

The centre also provides mothers with access to a house mother who cares for the children on the premises of the centre, while the mothers receive assistance to deal with their substance abuse.

“Mom is there to tuck them in at night, [since] kids need reassurance that mom is not too far away – if they need her, she is right there,” McLeod said.

In the therapeutic block, patients are given access to one-on-one counselling and children are assisted with any mental and developmental issues that they may have as result of their mother’s addiction, whereas the Independent Living Programme ensures that both mother and child run on a structured programme.

‘The centre has given me hope’

One patient at the centre, who after more than eight years of enduring an abusive marriage, two months ago finally managed to escape the crutches of her abuser by finding refuge in the Saartjie Baartman Centre.

Both addicted to drugs, she says that she and her husband’s relationship was greatly impacted by their lifestyle and gave her little hope for her and her six year old daughter’s future.

“If it wasn’t for my child asking me to stop, I wouldn’t have been here. When I came in, I had a lot of drugs in me and then I had to drain myself of the drugs. This is actually where I began getting better,” she explained.

She notes that while it remains challenging to be separated from the support of her family, she is thankful to have found a safe place for her and her daughter to start afresh.

“This programme gives me a lot of strength. It has really been helpful and it has taught me things that I never knew.”

In light of her improvement over the past eight weeks, the patient says that she is exceptionally proud of her progress and is extremely grateful for the service that the centre has provided both her and her daughter with.

She asserts that she feels more confident to enter the world on a positive note where is able to both play a functional role within society and care for her child as all mothers should.

Describing the initiative as innovative, MEC for Social development, Albert Fritz says that the department is in full support of the centre and will continue to highlight the issue of substance abuse that plagues the Cape Flats.

He says that while gangsterism and substance abuse is notorious within many communities, the Department welcomes the personal strength that individuals employ when working toward removing themselves from a negative lifestyle.

Given the fact that the centre provides mothers full-time access to their children, the minister asserts that more initiatives directed toward improving family structures is required within South Africa.

“The nice thing about this centre is that you can also bring your children along and they would also be assisted, but you will be primarily assisted, because you are the absolute beacon of the family,” Fritz stated.

There is a correlation between substance abuse, gender violence, murder, and general criminal activity in all societies.

In light of extreme levels of party within Cape Town communities, he said many abused women tend to accept their violent relationships due to their financial dependence on their spouses or partners.

“Through substance abuse, families break up, without which they can survive. And a lot of the issues start on Friday, by Monday morning everything turns back. [So] the women who were attacked over the weakened, by Monday they withdraw their charges because of the economic dependence – but next Friday it are the same thing.”

In a bid to mitigate the impact of substance abuse within the Cape, Fritz explained that the department has established 25 centres that are dedicated toward assisting addicts and their families.

As an individual, who after his family was forcibly removed from District Six, was raised in Hanover Park, the minister encourages members of society to take proactive measures to improve their social structures and positively impact the communities in which they reside.

“Until we, as a society, get organized into proper social structures, we will succumb to drug abuse and gangsterism,” he noted.

Fritz says that in improving community structures, not only are families provided with a fighting chance to survive, but the youth are granted a sense of dignity and encouraged to become positive contributors within society.

“We need to instil in our young women dignity and self-esteem. They [young girls] must want to get out poverty through education,” Fritz continued.

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