He would wake up each morning yearning not for a cup of tea but for a tot from a bottle kept handy under the bed. By 6.30, he would be knocking on the door of the liquor bar, demanding beer or arrack.
For P. Niththiyanandan life was all about alcohol, having started drinking beer with friends as a teenager. The addiction ruined his family, as sometimes he would turn violent.
“I spent about Rs. 800 a day on alcohol,” says this father of five ruefully, adding he was a “gedarata honda nethi minihek” (not a good man for the home).
But that was two years ago. Sitting under a plaque which claims, “This too shall pass” at the Centre for Rehabilitation of Alcoholics and Drug Addicts (CRADA) in Mannar, he is all smiles, as that phase of alcoholism has truly passed for him.
Coming to CRADA craving for help to rid himself of a habit that had him in its vice-like grip, now Niththi, as he is affectionately called, has become a spokesman against alcoholism and a living example that one can kick the habit.
|The programme at Thalvupadu
“I came for three weeks. The first few days were terrible because I had no alcohol,” says Niththi, a Hindu, explaining that he stayed on to help CRADA to achieve its commendable objectives.
Run by Director Fr. Vincent Patrick of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) order, CRADA has two objectives – the prevention of alcoholism and drug addiction and the reformation of those who have fallen victim to these two vices.
Mannar district is second on the list when considering alcoholism, says Fr. VP as he is known in the area, with Batticaloa right on top.
It was while working part-time as the Parish Priest of Pesalai for nearly eight years that Fr. VP realized the enormity of the problem of addiction. He interacted closely with the people, after suggesting to them that they help develop the Church of Our Lady of Victories there.
“Everyone chipped in, the women coming to help and the men demarcating a day that they would go fish for the church. The proceeds of that day’s sale of fish were given to the church,” he says, recalling a Saturday when they caught fish worth Rs. 700,000.
It was also then that he got to know their problems – substance abuse and alcoholism were destroying families – and pledged to tackle this issue faced by his flock. “People work very hard – fishermen out at sea, getting scorched in the sun. They come home and take to the bottle, to overcome tiredness and other worries,” he says. CRADA was born in Pesalai in 2004, but finding a permanent home in Thoddaweli in 2006. The Bishop of Mannar, Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph is the patron of CRADA.
“Affiliated to the New Horizon for Integral Peace (NHIP), the mission of CRADA has been handed over to the Oblate Province of Jaffna in 2009 by the Bishop,” says Fr. VP.
Within the short span that CRADA has been in existence, more than 300 addicts have resumed their normal lives through medical care or counselling or both, explains Brother Robert Robinson who helps Fr. VP, adding that radical changes have been wrought in society through school and village level awareness programmes on the ill-effects of substance abuse and alcoholism.
“We target the youth with the message of temperance,” he said.
Detailing some of their many programmes, Bro. Robinson says CRADA helps people with a problem to recover from the effects of addiction and remain sober by detoxification through institutionalized medical and psychosocial care when they experience withdrawal symptoms; supports the formation of ‘self-help groups’ to reinforce each other to remain sober as in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al Anon, Al Teen, etc.; and extends addiction treatment to badly-hit villages.
CRADA’s residential programme -- catering to all and sundry irrespective of race or religion -- sees 30 addicts going through the rehabilitation process every month. They come from all over ––Mannar, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Vavuniya and also Colombo, says Fr. VP, who makes special mention of the support they get from Ven Sarana Hamuduro in their programmes.
CRADA sustains itself by engaging in chillie cultivations, poultry, piggery and a bakery which produces speciality breads, it is learnt, while also relying on funds from NGOs like IOM which has equipped the bakery.
For CRADA, the most recent success had been in August when a two-week anti-addiction camp was held at Thalvupadu in Mannar, after the formation of a core group including Parish Priest Fr. Stephen and eight trained psycho-social helpers, four Oblate priests, four Oblate brothers and three officials from the Mental Health Unit of the Mannar Hospital.
All houses in the village, about 480 families, were visited to assess the level of the problem and 114 men voluntarily admitted to alcoholism. Twenty-nine were part of the residential addiction treatment camp held with support from the Mannar Hospital doctors and Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. M. Ganeshan from the National Institute of Mental Health, Angoda. With the villagers, including the women and children rallying round, the toddy tavern was moved away and the hours of sale reduced by one hour in the morning and two hours in the evening, says Fr. VP.
Its awareness programmes have been such that all over Mannar, many are the times that children have gently told their fathers who fall by the wayside with regard to frequent inebriation, “I’ll call Fr. VP”.