Fellow Since 1993
South African Videographers Association
This profile was prepared when Sanku Molaoli was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.
Sanku Molaoli is launching the first community-based residential recovery center and prevention program for young alcoholics and substance abusers in Johannesburg's black township of Soweto.
The New Idea
Sanku intends to introduce South Africa's first alcoholism recovery program specifically targeted to the black community. It will be a holistic rehabilitation and prevention program with both community outreach and an "in-house" residential component, and it will begin in the sprawling two and a half million-person township of Soweto. Once established, the "Community Alcoholism Center" will train community workers and recovered alcoholics to work with patients and to develop a community awareness program. Services and educational materials will be offered in the vernacular and will be adapted to the specific needs and problems of young adult substance abusers in the urban African community. Sanku, a recovered alcoholic, believes that only a community-based and community-sensitive approach can reverse the devastating effects alcoholism is having on the social fabric of the urban African community. Targeting the youth, Sanku will focus initially on high schools in Soweto. A volunteer network of recovered alcoholics and substance abusers will be trained to meet and address students, as well as to conduct workshops on alcoholism, substance abuse, and recovery. The Center will work closely with the Department of Education and accept referrals from high schools in the area. To further the objectives of broad public awareness of the problem, Sanku intends to draw attention to community leaders who have recovered or are recovering from substance abuse. He will organize a media campaign to publicize their struggles toward recovery as testimony to the widespread abuse of substances throughout the black community. As a modest pilot program, the Center's residential facility will initially service no more than ten patients. To the greatest possible extent, the Center will grow its own food and members will share responsibility for the Center's maintenance. Where possible, tutors will conduct remedial and supplementary classes. The Center will also offer aerobics classes, physical training skills, and training in small-scale income generating activities.
Alcohol and alcohol-related problems touch all sectors of South African society, with a total estimated cost to the country's economy, in 1987, of about $500 million. By 1992, this figure is likely to exceed $1 billion in terms of damage to health, accidents, crime, family breakdown and reduced productivity at work. The legacy of apartheid and its concomitant socio-economic impoverishment has exacerbated the abuse of alcohol and other drugs to an alarming proportion. The South African liquor industry spends more than $40 million each year on advertising alone, and shebeens (illegal drinking taverns) have long been one of the few businesses blacks are allowed to own. Life in single-sex migrant worker "hostels", high unemployment, inadequate education, political instability, a pervasive culture of violence, and persistent poverty all have helped build up high levels of alcoholism and substance abuse in the black community. The pressures leading to alcohol abuse among black youth are extraordinary and are not likely to diminish. One half of all South Africans are under the age of 21. Forty-four percent of Africans are under the age of 15. Comparing current economic and job growth rates with population statistics yields the gloomy conclusion that one half of those coming onto the job market over the next two decades will never find formal employment. In this frighteningly fertile soil for social dislocation and personal degeneration, there are very few alcohol rehabilitation programs in existence. There is not a single state-rehabilitation center that caters to the black community. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a self-help curative program, reaches no more than 500 people within Soweto's population of more than two and one half million people. Furthermore, the program is conducted exclusively in English and is used mostly by professional, middle-aged adults. Private recovery programs are financially prohibitive with charges of up to $100 per day, excluding professional services and specialized treatment. Professional staff and counselors in both the private and public sector rehabilitation programs are typically not from the community and have never been substance abusers.
Sanku is currently putting together a steering committee comprising community-based social workers, professionals, and recovered alcoholics interested in serving the community. The committee will first identify a location for the initial pilot center in Soweto and begin the planning process with regard to staff training, selection, group therapy and counseling, and educational materials. Volunteers will be recruited to assist with the community awareness program. The committee will also investigate public policy issues relating to the problems of alcohol and substance abuse and will begin to lobby for greater state action for rehabilitation programs in the black community. Toward this end, it will coordinate with existing private and self-help recovery and rehabilitation programs. The project will adapt existing materials from other programs, such as AA, to fit the specific needs and language requirements of its clientele. It will try to establish a modest economic base through vegetable gardening and small-scale production, and seek financial assistance from both the public and private sectors. After launching the pilot residential center, Sanku will establish larger centers in all of the townships. Each center will cater to an average of 200 people. Initially the centers will target young adults between the ages of 15-21, but the project may later expand. The treatment will be available for a maximum of three months, but typically for a period between 4-6 weeks.
As a child, alcohol was one of the few things Sanku could take for granted. Sanku grew up with an alcoholic father and elder brother. Alcohol was the cause of his father's death, and Sanku himself began drinking seriously at the age of 16. He grew up in a chaotic and impoverished environment in Soweto and left high school during the 1976 Soweto uprisings. He was expelled twice from a teacher training course as a result of alcohol and drug abuse and was fired from his job as a camera person for the same reason. Only after he was fired from his second job in 1985, did he begin to take his problem seriously. He tried unsuccessfully to stop drinking on his own, and was later introduced to AA by his brother. He has been sober for the past 6 years. In 1986, Sanku joined the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence as a counselor and teacher. He later joined the Ikemeleng Remedial Education Center in Soweto as a full-time teacher and there felt a close affinity to children suffering as outcasts and social failures because of their learning disabilities. His current idea germinated while he was working at Ikemeleng, where he became aware of the possibilities for successful rehabilitation programs on a wide scale if only adequate resources were mobilized. Sanku is currently the director of Ikemeleng, which grew under his leadership into a million dollar project. He will begin to work full time on the rehabilitation program in 1992.