IMG_0671 Dereleen & Yellow Ribbon

Dereleen James is a fighter, an activist, but first and foremost a mother. This mother wrote a letter to the then State President Jacob Zuma in 2013. It remains a heart wrenching open letter highlighting the harsh realities of a mother living with a child addicted to drugs. It breaks the silence and focuses on the stigma these mothers deal with on a daily basis.

Drug and substance abuse is increasing at a rapid speed, both locally and globally. Dereleen’s “Dear Dad” letter raised awareness regarding the destructive nature and extent of this in Eldorado Park. (It is a township south of Johannesburg South Africa). The President did listen and did intervene via police raids on the various drug lords and Lolly Lounges – the drug lords’ entertainment by young girls, the girls are subsequently introduced to drugs. They eventually receive their drugs (especially street drug crystal meth called tik ) free, all for keeping clients “happy”.

Dereleen was hand-picked by the US Embassy to partake in President Barak Obama’s international visitors leadership programme. The focus was on substance abuse intervention methods of the youth at risk. It furthered her purpose, as she has become the face of substance abuse and founded The Yellow Ribbon Foundation.

The government‘s intervention lead to the revised National Drug Master Plan 2013. The Minister of Social Welfare declared in a preliminary statement that this blueprinted scheme would be used across the country. The plan included learner ships and study bursaries to the township’s youth. The Yellow Ribbon Foundation Wellness Centre runs a daily programme for youth seeking recovery.

Did the government’s intervention work? Dereleen said that it was effective for a few months. “The state of play is that new Lolly Lounges have emerged and drug lords continue with their trade.” There is a distinct lack of synergy between government departments and the police force; not to mention the different NGO’s. There are several loopholes, which aid the lack of implementation of the National Drug Masterplan into the justice system. This in turn hinders referrals to rehabilitation centres.

Instead parents face discrimination at hospitals, as the complexity of the addition disease is not fully understood. Social workers have a more generic role, thus not qualified to deal with the problem. Addiction is a disease and has to be recognized and treated as such. After exploiting all avenues available to her; Dereleen wrote the Dear Dad letter. It went viral and gained world acclaim on various media platforms.

Where to from here, you might ask?  Back to grassroots levels of doing things. One only needs to look at the mothers’ plight – highlighted in the Dear Dad Letter.  We need a rehab centre, a recreation centre for the children, one says. “Dismiss all corrupt cops, that are on the payroll, in fact change all the staff at the precinct.” Compulsory drug testing at our schools, another echoes.

That is exactly what The Yellow Ribbon Foundation aim to achieve. The foundation encourages synergy between government departments and the role they play towards the dream of a drug free country. Dereleen has also registered the The Yellow Ribbon Foundation as a NPO. The purpose is to create recovery capital through all spheres of government, civil society, private sector as well as religious organizations.

The Yellow Ribbon Foundation encourages active citizenship, breaking the silence and stigma associated with addiction. Their mission includes promoting easy access to recovery along with partnerships with schools and an intervention service at these schools. They strive to ensure access to detox at hospitals and free drug testing. They promote sport, as means to keep the youth occupied.  Participation in sporting codes, such as football, cycling and golf for afterschool and weekends are encouraged. As Dereleen favourite Father of the Nation Mandela quote says: “It seems impossible until it’s done” They are doing him proud as he believed in sport to aid human relations.

The Yellow Ribbon Community programmes include focusing on poverty alleviation and empowerment. They believe addiction thrives in dirt and hunger. Therefore they distribute food hampers to impoverished community members who keep their surroundings clean. The dignity bank also provides clothing and toiletry packs to addicts, who enter the program, as they often don’t own much.

The Yellow Ribbon Foundation is fulfilling the Government’s National Drug Master Plan, as per the Minister of Social Development, “The plan is intended to help realise the vision of a society, free of substance abuse so that more attention can be focused on raising the quality of life of the poor and vulnerable and of developing the people to achieve their true potential. “ Their concern is to save and restore dignity and respect, in the aftermath of the devastating knock on effect this has on families and communities at large. They represent a beacon of hope and recovery to many, who so desperately seek peace and sobriety. Question is what is the government doing at this stage.

This phenomenon is consuming more lives than imaginable, the addicts and those affected as a consequence, whatever their capacity might be. It is a complex issue, therefore the solution too, as no two situations are the same. They might share a similar thread; integrities differ etc. It cannot solely be blamed on poverty alone. Yes this might make you susceptible to it, truth is all walks of life are affected, some hereditary (debatable) or circumstantial. It might be closer to home than you realize, look around you.

Choose to be an active citizen, most of all an engaging one, another letter to our new president comes to mind.Then take to heart Dereleen’s mantra “Don’t let One Bad Choice, Be your Last Choice.”  She made the choice to fight.



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