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Just Say No

This week was Semana Di No a las Drogas (Say No to Drugs Week) in the project. The students spent the week doing a variety of activities relating to the theme of staying away from drugs.

The Health Department focused their classes for the week on drug resistance education. One of our health educators asked the kids about what the theme of the week was. The kids responded that they shouldn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. She asked her first grade class if any of them know someone who does drugs. Her estimate was that 95% of the students raised their hands.

A medical group called Shared Beat ( spent the week in the project. They visit Safe Passage twice each year, and have become an integrated and highly valued part of our program. In addition to offering medical services to students and their families, they also supported Say No to Drugs Week. They attended the health classes and talked to the students about the warning signs of drug use.

All of the doors in the main building were decorated for the week. The offices and classrooms received a different prompt or motto around saying no to drugs. The departments then decorated our doors based on the prompt we received. The English team feels proud without drugs! The younger

kids, who attend in the afternoons, also decorated their classroom doors for the week. The bright colors and creative artwork were a welcome change to the black iron of the doors in their normal state. The older kids in the program, who come to the project in the mornings, made posters about not doing drugs.

Students were also invited to take part in both a drawing and essay contest about staying clear of drugs. The posters were displayed in the comedor and were amazing to see. The youth are unbelievable artists, and the techniques they used absolutely blew me away. But beyond that, the students demonstrated an ability to interpret and think abstractly. In an educational system that can frequently be based on rote memorization, critical thinking skills are not often invoked.

On Thursday, a school-wide awards ceremony was held. Class prizes were awarded for the top three door decorations and the top three posters. Individual prizes were awarded for the essays and drawings. The Health Department made gorgeous certificates to hand out to all of the winners to honor their achievement. The class winners have their certificates proudly displayed outside their classrooms.

The last day of the week was our monthly Family Day, where parents come in to talk with teachers and social workers about their children’s progress. Parents attended a gathering and heard first-hand stories of the negative effects of drugs on your health and your life. One of the Shared Beat volunteers talked about the struggles his son went through in his addiction to drugs. One of the mothers shared about her own struggles with chemicals. These personal histories were incredibly impactful, especially for the parents to hear from one of their own about the detrimental effects drugs had on her life and her family.

I took part in a project called D.A.R.E. – Drug Abuse Resistance Education – when I was in middle school. I do remember it putting a scare into me, but more than that, I remember feeling a personal sense of responsibility to not use drugs so I didn’t let the people around me down. These students don’t necessarily have that. As evidenced by the students’ responses in health class, there are wide-spread problems with chemical use, particularly alcohol and glue, in the community. I have personally seen men huffing glue on the street. I’m not sure that it’s a part of the discourse in the students’ normal life. Our students see people drunk or huffing glue all over their community. They know what the effects are and they know it’s bad. But no one is really holding them accountable to stay away from chemicals, perhaps because there are far too many graver things to worry about, or perhaps because it’s so normalized.

That’s why I think this week was so important for the students and families. It lets them know that somebody is watching and somebody cares. I also think it was incredibly important for the parents to hear from someone whose dad struggled with addiction. Perhaps hearing it from a child’s perspective will help the parents think in real terms of what it’s like for their children to see drugs so prevalent in the community. It might even help change behavior or spur a couple of conversations with their children about why drugs are harmful. For me, that’s all it took. I’m not naive enough to think that that will do the trick for all of these students or that those conversations will take place in a majority of cases, but I do think that it will for some of them. If it’s even one, it was worth it.

Unfortunately, drug use is pervasive within this community. Drinking is so prevalent that many people don’t recognize beer as alcohol. A sea change in attitudes and behavior won’t happen overnight. Hopefully we can plant seeds that will start germinating into a healthier future. When our students grow up, perhaps they will have those conversations with their own kids. It would be a big step in the right direction.

This week I saw peace in the integration and community support it takes to say no.

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