Salam Adill and Hind, (and all who read this post)
Sorry I couldn’t get this email done earlier but here are my thoughts regarding what I think would be a good next step for the Qat campaign that already is doing very well. My aim is to share my ideas and see where it leads to. If either of you thinks that it’s something that is unnecessary or not workable then let me know as soon as you know just to save time. I will say now, that I am not an expert on these things. The real experts here are Adill who is a social worker and Hind who has been one of the founders of this campaign if not THE founder of it. So I am actually writing this to start a conversation. I will be as brief and as direct as possible. I will also post this on my blog for other people to join in the discussion. I hope that’s all right.
The Problem as I see it
I have a couple of brothers who are what I consider typical qat addicts. So I am using them as examples. I am looking at
- urban Yemenis
- Aged 16 – 25
- Limited financial abilities
- No jobs.
I think the campaign seems to be doing a great job raising awareness about Qat in Yemen but I think it needs to start targeting the new generation of qat chewers even more and in a different way. If what people are calling the Arab Spring is real, then one of the main things it should have accomplished is giving the people a new way of looking at their problems and taking ownership over their situation. The question is how to get use the Qat problem to not only solve it but to foster civic values. I don’t know if the older generation can change its ways. It makes sense to work on the new ones before the habit becomes too strong to break.
When I talk to my brothers about Qat, these are the issues they all keep repeating:
- All our friends do it and it is the only way we can spend time with our friends.
- It is a way of networking with the aim of finding jobs through connections.
- There is nothing else to do
- What else am I supposed to do with myself
- Without it life is boring
- We don’t want to be different from society. We want to fit in.
- I like the feeling I get from Qat and it makes it easy to meet new friends.
- I see nothing wrong with it.
There are other problems that I notice with Qat but isn’t referred to much are cigarettes and fizzy drinks. From my limited experience and from watching my brothers I have noticed that Qat actually makes you smoke almost triple the amount of cigarettes that you would smoke if you didn’t chew. It’s just cigarette after cigarette after cigarette. My brother can easily go through 30 cigarettes in a three hour qat session and almost 1 liter of coke. That is a lot of sugar per session. Not to mention the morning after depressions.
How to get these young Yemenis to choose to adopt a different way of living that is different from the cultural and societal norms of everyone around them?
- Young Yemenis will not quit just by telling them to or by telling them of the harms or by shaming them. These things are not really effective.
- Qat chewers should be dealt with and approached as drug users. Like cannabis for example.
- They need an incentive. It is useless to ask someone to stop something unless you give them something better in return. I think this is something very important.
- The solution has to be something that is suitable for Yemenis and for their situation. It also has to have a way of defining them as a group that stands apart from others.
- The solution has to offer them more than advice and warnings, it has to offer them incentives. Reasons that make it worthwhile to do something that is very difficult to do .
Some of My Proposals
- Create a No Qat Club
- Visibly identify them as different by a badge and a membership card
- The badge helps with the marketing of the idea and by sending a message to others that this person belongs to this club. It’s a good way to get others talking about it.
- The membership card can be used in a variety of ways: discounts at gyms for example. Or classes. Or lectures. Or vocational opportunities. It all depends what and who gets involved in this.
- I am not a social worker so I can’t say for sure I know what I am talking about BUT I think that this ‘club’ should aim to do the following. If I am wrong or missing something, please tell me:
- Offer mentoring and counselling by volunteers who KNOW what they are talking about. IE know or trained to some level on how to mentor or council
- Create space for these young people to meet as an alternative to hanging out with qat chewers
- These spaces have to include REASONS for them to meet there.
- They have to look nice and be pleasant places to hang out, have activities, maybe free internet access. Something that makes pple WANT to come and be a part of.
- Free classes (teaching them useful skills like computer literacy,basic English), free activities, trips, community based projects (These can be projects where they learn to identify communal problems, and work together to do something about them. This is part of helping them learn that they don’t have to sit and watch, that they can DO.)
- Sports are important to Yemenis in a weird way. They respect muscle. They respect sportsmen. But many don’t really participate. Maybe the club can tap into that somehow.
- Create volunteer based work placements with local businessmen,organisations, government bodies to SUCCESSFUL MEMBERS WHO PROVE THEY ARE KICKING THE HABIT in order to help them put meaningful experience on their CVs. This helps them fill their time with something useful. They should be at least offered transport and lunch costs as a lot of Yemenis will not go for this if it means they have to part with whatever little money they have to volunteer.
- The club has to create a way that can prove if a member really is quitting. This is important because you don’t want pple who lie about it to be part of this.
- They should have a lot of fun in these spaces. A place for them to express themselves with certain basic facilities that help them do that.
- The club should find a way of fostering talents: artists, musicians, writers, basically any young person who is interested in developing themselves.
- The Club should always be pushing its members to DO things. Not just hang out. Even if it means going out doing things like
- Volunteering to help elderly
- Helping someone at a disadvantage to read or write.
- Get a member who has a talent or ability to teach it to others as a class
- Neighbourhood clean ups etc etc.
- An award scheme of some kind to members who have proven that they are quitting. This is important because it creates incentives and goals.
These are some rough, quick ideas that I am sure can be improved upon. I would love to hear your thoughts. I think this can be an amazing project. The problem is that all three of us live outside Yemen. So… What are your thoughts guys?