Church rehab center inspires drug addicts to start similar centers

By Anto Akkara
Catholic News Service

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) — A Catholic rehabilitation center in Bangladesh has inspired more than 50 former drug addicts to start similar centers throughout the country.

Bangladesh Rehabilitation and Assistance Center for Addicts, or BARACA, has helped more than 1,800 drug addicts since it was begun in 1988 by Caritas Bangladesh. Caritas Bangladesh is the local affiliate of Caritas Internationalis, an international network of Catholic relief, development and social service agencies.

“Many of the de-addiction centers in Bangladesh have been inspired by BARACA,” said Tarun Gayen, psychologist and founder of the Society for Community Health, Rehabilitation, Education and Awareness center in Dhaka. “It is our role model.”

Gayen told Catholic News Service that he joined BARACA as a counselor in 1992 upon the recommendation of a friend, who underwent its four-month residential rehabilitation program. After seven years of service at the center, Gayen left BARACA and founded his own center.

Holy Cross Brother Robi Purification, BARACA director, said that of the more than 100 rehabilitation centers in Bangladesh “more than 50 percent are run by those who have recovered at our center.”

“Those who have experienced the effect of the drug(s) understand themselves — far better than anyone else — the havoc it causes in families,” he told CNS. “That is why many of those who quit drugs at our center have taken it up as a mission.”

Mohammed Bilal, a Muslim truck driver, spends almost every Friday at BARACA sharing his story during a weekly testimonial program for drug addicts and family members.

The 39-year-old truck driver has celebrated six “clean birthdays,” but he said the most “satisfying part” of his association with the center is that he has helped two dozen friends and contacts kick the habit.

“I had even sold off my truck and had become a beggar when I was brought here,” Bilal said of his heroin and alcohol addiction, which had pushed his wife and three children to the brink of poverty.

“I was a dead man. After coming here, I got a new life. So when I tell them, people believe me,” said Bilal.

Brother Robi, whose order now administers the center, said it is run by laypeople and has a minimum of 50 addicts in programs at any given time. Most of its staff are former drug addicts who can “understand and convince the drug addicts,” he said.

Bokul Costa, who came to the center 18 years ago as a drug addict, is the current staff coordinator of BARACA.

“When I came here, I never thought I would become a staff (member) here. But I love this service,” said Costa, who has been coordinating 24 staffers for the past three years.

Costa said the center draws drug addicts from all across Bangladesh and from all walks of life: from rickshaw drivers to doctors and information technology professionals. Two-thirds of residents pay the monthly charge of $44, but it is free for those who cannot afford it.

Brother Robi said his congregation has been running counseling centers for regular checkups, and the center has set up Narcotics Anonymous groups in different parts of Bangladesh.

“When an addict recovers, we recommend him to be connected with the nearest NA group. We also try to keep in contact with the person at least for six months,” he said.

“Once a year we try to bring back all those who have recovered at BARACA to enjoy and celebrate together their joy of drug-free life. That is an occasion in the life of BARACA,” he said.

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