Liberia: Former Zogo Share Experience How He Overcame Drugs and Became Clean

Isreal Samuel Roberts declaring that he is now clean after being hooked on drugs for eight years; and Roberts narrating how he and others used to be taking the harmful substances

MONROVIA – Israel Samuel Roberts, a former drug addict, but now the class president of the New Life Recovery Center in Marshall, Margibi County, said he was hooked on narcotics for eight years, and used to smoke “coco” and heroin also known as “Italian White” or “Tai-girl”. But he has now been “clean” for 12 months without any narcotic substances in his system.

“I dropped out of school because of drugs. I used my school fees to smoke drugs; I started stealing things from home to sell just to support my drug habit. I left home and slept in the ghetto for three years. Friends I used to help in school, all graduated before me. So, I decided to change. I was brought to the recovery center by my sister; but, because I was still going through the withdrawal stage, I ran away. I walked from Marshall straight to Boys Town because the drug was still in my system. When they brought me back, I ran away for the second time. I was bringing shame and disgrace to my family, so I decided to change. Now I have been sober for one year without any drugs in my system. I will remain clean,” Roberts promised.  

Roberts and few of his peers are lucky to be have been rehabilitated in the United Methodist Church-run recovery program. But over 250,000 young people across the country are still battling with narcotics addiction, with few rehabilitation centers in the country. This figure was obtained in a statistic conducted three years ago by the Liberian Government.   

According to UNFPA, it is estimated that two out of every 10 youth in Liberia are users of narcotic substances. And added that in order to sustain the desire and use of narcotic drugs, these young people who live in ghettos, street corners, and cemeteries often resort to crimes, including armed robberies.

At the same time, President George M. Weah in June of this year, launched a national fund drive in support of a program for the rehabilitation and empowerment of At-Risk Youth in Liberia by the Government in collaboration with the United Nations and partners. He pledged an initial US$1 million as part of his administration’s contribution toward the project, which has been set at 30 months. The fund is intended to provide rehabilitation, skills training, social integration, and employment opportunities for these at-risk youths across Liberia.

“Losing young people to drugs will affect the country’s human capital, thus impacting national development negatively. The demographics of our population who are being consumed by drug addiction means that we need to act quickly. The threat of imminent danger will continue to grow in size and scope if these potentially valuable human assets are not reclaimed, redeemed, and transformed into law-abiding citizens,” said President Weah.

Funding for the rehabilitation and empowerment of these at-risk youths was estimated at US$13.9 million for the duration of the project. But it seems the Liberian Government’s gesture of US$13.9 million earmarked for the recovery of at-risk youth has not yet reached self-run recovery centers like the New Life Recovery Center.

Jefferson B. Knight, who is the Director of the Recovery Center said since they started the recovery program in 2013, the government is yet to send them a subsidy.

“Drug addiction in our country is a serious problem, but our national government has been playing lip service. We have not seen much done by the government regarding drugs addiction in Liberia. But many of our government officials are now getting involved because they hear some money was given to put into the drug rehabilitation program, while others are getting involved because of political interests. It is unfortunate, instead of these resources going towards rehabilitating our children to become useful citizens, they are now using those opportunities to amass wealth for themselves, according to my source,” said Mr. Knight.

He disclosed that they have helped clean 110 persons, some of whom are doing well in the society, while a few went into relapse since its establishment in 2013. And their friends and partners are helping to erect the women recovery center that is now at roof level.

“We are erecting the women’s rehabilitation center. But when will the government come to help us get the support we need? We need everything we can get to complete the women’s rehabilitation center, because many of our young women are dying from drug addiction. How many rehabilitation centers do we have in the country? We are getting young people from Bong, Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties coming to us to get clean. What is our government waiting for to help us in supporting this effort? What are our churches waiting for to create some spaces to welcome our brothers and sisters for rehabilitation programs in their buildings, because they have many empty rooms?

Knight further said Roberts, who is also the class president, is now elevated to the position, of one of the staffs at the center to join the Center’s first pioneer, Mr. Oliver Pratt, who has been sober for 10 years.

Mr. Knight’s appeal for assistance to help with the recovery processes of the youth, caught the attention of one of their partners, Mr. Jefferson Bates, who promised and volunteered to provide skills training for the young men at the recovery center.         

Also, giving his testimony at the Recovery Center was one Donald Wuanti, commonly called ‘Daddy Wuanti’. He serves as the “speaker of the house” for the center and had been an alcoholic for 15 years.

“Alcohol destroyed 15 years of my life. I want to be thankful to Rev. [Celeb] Dormah because I am now three months sober,” Wuanti said.

Wuanti further explained that his nightmare started when his father moved along with them to the US. And because he wanted to fit into the society, he adopted all the bad ways while in Philadelphia, because the community they lived in was tough, so he had to grow up with the tugs and gangsters and adapted their ways. But when they moved to Chicago, things changed, because it was a nice neighborhood and he wanted to be popular in school like every young boy his age, so he played sports, but at home, everything was not the same.

“My father as a preacher, expected me to be the perfect kid who would be home reading my bible, but I wanted to be out there having fun. I got frustrated and turned to alcohol and started drinking. In order to make more money, I started selling all kinds of drugs in order to support my drinking habit. I went to prison, and when I got out of prison, few years later I saw myself getting off the airplane at RIA in Liberia. Imagine I had not been to Liberia since age six and I was 25 at the time when I returned, so things looked different. It was not easy on me in Liberia. One of the friends who returned home with me could not stand life in Liberia, because he complained of not being able to use bucket and flush toilet, so he committed suicide by hanging himself. Addiction is the most jealous thing ever, it is jealous more than any girlfriend you will ever have. Alcohol stopped me from achieving anything better in life. I used my three years tuition on alcohol and never went to class one day, while attending Stella Maris where I studied to become a Civil Engineer at the time.”

Serving as the guest speaker at the program, was Rev. Celeb, Dormah, United Methodist Church’s Ambassador for at-risk youth. Rev. Dormah, who is also known as the ‘Zogo Reverend,’ among other things said the Church must take the lead in building rehab centers because for too long, it has relinquished its responsibilities to the “4th Estate,” which has become the watchdog of society. And the Church is the ‘first estate’ and the custodian of checks and balances in society.