Maria Teresa Almada
This profile was prepared when Maria Teresa Almada was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Among the inner-city neighborhoods of Ciudad Juárez, tantalizingly close to the Texas border, Teresa Almada has spent over a decade working with adolescents and their concerns. As she dealt with more and more cases of young lives shattered by substance dependence, she realized that very few of her cases involved teenagers with real psychological disorders. Teresa is convinced that the majority of adolescents turning to drugs do so primarily because of dysfunction in their relationships to family members or the surrounding community. She argues that the malaise provoked by the rupture of social ties is compounded by environmental factors, such as high unemployment and limited opportunity, which lead teenagers to question the very purpose of their lives and encourage them to seek solace in drugs, even when they are rationally aware of deleterious effects on their health.Based on this analysis, Teresa began to pioneer a new model of community intervention for the prevention of teenage substance abuse. Three years ago she founded the Center for Assistance and Promotion of Youth (CASA, or "home") in Ciudad Juárez, and began training "youth workers" in skills they would need to reach out to other sectors of the community, such as parents, teachers, police, and business people. She has developed a methodology that brings groups of teenage drug users together with members of other age and social groups, to discuss the images each has of the other, and the ways in which their relationships could be improved. By sponsoring a series of events focused on rebuilding broken relationships in the community, and by impressing on the parents, teachers, and friends of drug users that their own behaviors may also need to change, Teresa has created an innovative drug prevention and treatment program. This program is inexpensive, (and therefore accessible to poor people), community-based, and holds the potential for much broader social impact than expensive, individually-focused rehabilitation plans. This "rebuilding relationships" approach to community problem solving may also be applicable to efforts to reintegrate other socially marginalized groups.