The Teen Challenge home in Kiambu county. Photo/Elvis Ogina (Nairobi) May 17th,2017
Deep inside Thindigua in Kiambu County is the Teen Challenge Kenya (TCK) rehabilitation centre. We drive in through gates that are wide open – the first indication of the centre’s approach to helping addicts regain control of their lives. No one is locked up and they stay because they want to.
Another difference is that the programme, which is open to all (as long as you are 18 and above) and based on the Christian faith, is 12 months long – unlike the more common three to six months.
“A third thing is that our approach is spiritual rather than clinical,” says TCK Executive Director Job Wanyama. He explains that the clinical approach views addiction from a medical perspective.
“But we do not believe addiction is a disease; rather a choice one made at some point in one’s life,” says Job.
Teen Challenge is a 59-year-old worldwide ministry that has been in Kenya for the last nine years. Wanyama says they have proved over time that anyone who completes the programme and stays focused is “delivered”.
“That means they are set free from substance use and abuse,” he says. “They stop right from the word go.”
The centre is a drugs-free environment – not even medications are allowed inside the compound. Any medical cases are referred to a hospital. They do not admit anyone with a mental illness because this requires close medical supervision.
“The programme is entirely voluntary,” says Job, explaining the wide open gates. “It is not an easy programme so anyone coming here must be willing to invest time and be fully committed. Anyone who stays appreciates their need to be here.”
Wanyama puts the TCK success rate at 80 per cent. “Out of, say, 10 students, two will leave. The rest will stick it out to the end.”
He describes ‘success’ as completing the programme and not going back to whatever behaviour controlled them in the past. There are those who have been employed or even gone back to school after graduating. A six-month observation programme after graduation keeps track of how graduates are doing. In addition, there is an alumni association that meets every two months and is involved in the centre’s activities. Wanyama recalls a Government employee who had lost his job because his addiction interfered with his duties as a pharmacist.
“Ten months into the programme, he re-applied for his old job and was taken back,” says Wanyama, adding that the man finished his master’s degree last year and is now a senior pharmacist in Kiambu.
“Others have gone through Bible school and are now serving in different capacities in their churches.”
Wanyama says there are seven graduates who are now full-time TCK staff members.
There are various reasons why a ‘student’ – as they are referred to at TCK – will opt to leave.
“Some may have been forced by family to come; others are simply running away from their past and leave once they realise they will have to confront it. For others, the programme is just too hard,” Wanyama explains.
“Our programme is very structured; the students are here to learn and we monitor them to ensure that is happening,” he says. “We focus on building character – a sense of responsibility and other values that will contribute positively to society.”
Daily, the students attend chapel and have counseling sessions as well as lessons in various subjects that target their areas of ‘failure’, for instance, anger management.
“And Bible teachings are built into everything we do,” says Wanyama.
The students also have a work programme that involves house chores, gardening and cooking. This is often where skills and talents emerge and the students are encouraged to learn from one another. For instance, those who can’t cook learn how from fellow students.
Emily Obwaka, TCK’s deputy executive director and programme director of the two-year-old women’s centre – the only women-only rehab facility in the country – adds that all students are required to participate in the centre’s music programme.
“They have regular choir practice to prepare them for our outreach programme,” she says.
“This is when they visit different places – churches and other institutions – to share their experiences from a Christian perspective. It also helps to build their own confidence in their new identity plus they learn how to speak in public.”
Although the women’s centre uses the same approach, Obwaka says the women’s programme faces more challenges.
“Addictions have a more devastating effect on women physically and emotionally. For instance, there is the risk of exposure to HIV and Aids as well as abuse.”
Mothers also carry the additional emotional burden of not being able to take care of their children, many of whom are also endangered by their mothers’ addictions.
“They (women students) tend to need a lot more processing of what they have been through – they need more space for counselling or just talking.”
Of the six women who graduated in February, five are doing really well, says Obwaka.
“They have either gone back to school or into business.”
Alongside the structured programme and studies, the TCK staff approach is also considered key to the students’ recovery.
“Staff must have open hearts to look at what could be rather than what is,” says Wanyama.
“This also calls for a lot of relentless reaching out in love despite encountering resistance from the students.”
Staff members regularly pray for one another and, once a year, attend a continental meeting that incorporates training and offers some much-needed “refreshment”.
“This is necessary because it is easy for staff to get discouraged, especially if one has never encountered addiction before,” says Wanyama.
The men’s centre has 44 students housed in two facilities – in Kiambu and Nakuru. The women’s centre currently has 13 students. The organisation is run with the help of donations from corporates and individuals who either pay students’ fees or support TCK projects.
“As a non-profit organisation, we hope to become self-sustaining. We have some projects already running; others are waiting to get off the ground.”
The projects include pig, chicken, rabbit and fish rearing, farming, water bottling, handicraft (jewellery and knitting) and a recording studio for hire.