Burmese Refugee Youth Prevent Addiction & Violence

by DARE Network (Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Network)
Migrant youth learning computer skills
Migrant youth learning computer skills


 DARE Network serves to provide addiction prevention education programs across five refugee camps and one migrant community along the Thai-Burma border. Much of this work is youth-focused, aimed at preventing kids and teenagers from engaging in substance abuse and developing addiction issues that could impact them for the rest of their lives. This work is as engaging and dynamic as the young people DARE works with, no more so than within the migrant DARE Network Center in Proprah District. This community faces unique challenges, very different to those faced by camp-based refugees, and so in response to distinctive needs, DARE Network here is markedly different to other locations.


Yee S., age 26, has been an Addiction Worker for eight years in DARE Network’s Proprah District Migrant Centre. Yee explained this to me when I visited the DARE migrant centre for the first time.


Youth work is a major focus of this DARE Centre – prevention-education activities and peer support groups regularly are held in the evenings, and older teenagers are encouraged to lead these activities alongside Yee, giving them experience in leadership, addiction work, and the opportunity to take responsibility for younger teenagers and children.


Yee explains how DARE’s work here is youth-focused and relies on building organic relationships with teenagers. Though specific prevention-education campaigns are conducted three times per month within the Centre itself, building relationships of trust between teenagers and the addiction workers, including Yee, is an important route into being able to talk about addiction and substance abuse. Young people come to the Centre in the evenings to learn to use computers, develop textile skills with DARE’s sewing machines, and take guitar lessons. Rabbits, Frisbees, and volleyballs are available to play with – though it’s recommended not to play with all at once – for the sake of rabbit welfare (for example, ultimate-Frisbee tournaments just don’t mix well with docile furry friends).


Other ways DARE has been able to support the migrant community here include support for teachers within schools for migrant children, which are entirely donor-dependent, and so can shut down at any time. Due to lack of funding, teachers are routinely underpaid, so Yee has previously worked to source funding to supplement salaries, again as an important way of meeting the needs of youth within this community. DARE addiction workers also visit four migrant schools to offer computer training, and addiction prevention-education workshops.


Proprah District Migrant Centre works within ethnic migrant communities from Burma living in this area. Most of these people are day labourers in the farms surrounding this area, often illegally. Due to the nature of this work, DARE’s addiction treatment would be inappropriate and is not compatible with people’s lives. Yee explained that here people work everyday: to come in for treatment would mean stopping work, which is not possible for most.


Instead, Yee and other DARE Addiction Workers here start prevention-education activities at 5pm everyday to fit around work timetables. Addicted people come here and can receive support and prevention-education information, and though treatment is not accessible to this community, Yee explained that DARE’s philosophy of addiction recovery is that 20% comes from treatment, 30% comes from a person’s community support for their recovery, and 50% is an internal process within a person themselves. By supporting people to invest in themselves and learn about the addiction issues they have and how to recover, recovery from addiction is still possible.


The Migrant Centre is also different to camp DARE Centres as it responds to the specific needs of migrant workers, by focusing not only on provision of addiction prevention-education but also focusing on issues of labour rights and healthcare. To be an effective and responsive community organisation, DARE’s work here cannot be limited to a focus on only drugs and alcohol. In collaboration with health and labour rights – focused organisations, DARE Centre is able to facilitate the meeting of migrant community interests and needs.


Following the horrendous 2012 flooding within Burma, DARE Migrant Centre functioned as not only a place where migrant community members could receive support and help, but also as a facilitator of this group of people reaching out to those in more dire need than themselves. Together, migrants collected clothes to send to communities that were severely impacted by these floods, coordinating this from the DARE Centre. Through being able to provide a collection point and base for organisation to take place, Yee and others working within DARE here, have been part of tangible community building efforts, as well as help mitigate societal issues surrounding addiction that affect these communities.


The generous and on-going support from Global Giving donors for our work to provide Youth Addiction Prevention-Education makes possible DARE Network’s involvement in this community. Thank you for helping to empower our passionate and creative team to conduct this work, building communities that are free from addiction.

Prevention education starts early
Prevention education starts early
Keeping teens off the streets
Keeping teens off the streets
Yee S. - DARE Network Addiction staff member
Yee S. - DARE Network Addiction staff member
Ultimate frisbee - fun and team building
Ultimate frisbee - fun and team building
Music makes the people come together
Music makes the people come together
Law La Say, Chau Su and Major with the manual
Law La Say, Chau Su and Major with the manual

The DARE All Burma Community Addiction Manual is now complete! A huge success for the team that opens up many opportunities and will strengthen our future programs.  

The manual contains instructions and details of our entire program. From detox massage to community prevention education. It has been developed by our local staff, in only local languages – Karen and Burmese.

DARE’s mission is to build the capacity and strength of the local people to support other community members to recover from addiction. The completion of this manual is very rewarding for the team, who have worked extremely hard on it for many yearsl. It will be a key tool in the spread of addiction awareness, education and recovery along the borderline, in Burma and overseas in third countries.

It will enable people in remote areas to begin to provide awareness, education and basic treatment. It will enable more people to be trained as Addiction Workers, and those trainers we already have to use their skills to train more people in more places.

Law La Say our Program Coordinator was the lead on this project from start to finish.  He directed what was to go in, how the program was to be explained and completed the translation into Burmese.

He said about the completion of the manual:

”In 2002 and 2004 we started to create a manual, we used this for a few years but needed to add more after developing extra modules and feedback from the community. Since then we have been hoping for an opportunity to put all the knowledge together. We have so much knowledge from our time that we have learned and shared, that we decided that if we can put all the information together it will be so useful and much easier for our program, it will be our gift to the program. If ever DARE is gone, or we cannot reach somewhere, the manual will live on as a gift to the community.”

Major, our Assistant Program Coordinator learnt a lot from the process of developing the manual, another huge benefit from the process. He was the main formatter, editor and also did Karen translations. He said about the manual:

”We have support from the other people in the team who can help when something is not correct, so together with my increased skills and the team support I feel more confident to do more things for DARE”

The internal and external gain from the process and actual manual itself are almost immeasurable. We look forward to implementing it here and seeing it be used to help others around the world.

We would like to thank our funders for the manual project; Refugees International Japan and the Dave and Kerry Foundation for their generosity and continued support of our project.


Until next time,

The DARE Team. 

Prevention Education in a school classroom
Prevention Education in a school classroom

Return to their homeland, Burma, is now an imminent possibility for 120,000 refugee camp residents on the Thai-Burma border. The prospect of peace that will allow widespread return is an exciting prospect for the refugees. However, for the youth of the camps this brings up some hard questions. Should they go home with their family? What will life be like in rural Karen State?  

Some of the young camp residents were born in the camp and have never even stepped foot in their homeland. Others made the trek from their villages to the Thai based camps for education and work opportunities. Thanks to donors like you, the refugees have had exposure to education, healthcare and support, including addiction treatment and prevention, in the camps that is not available inside Karen State.

This poses a serious question for the youth. Do they try to integrate into Thai society and make use of the opportunities for work and education? Or do they return home and create opportunities by sharing their knowledge and helping the villages build schools and hospitals?

It’s a hard decision.

Our youth addiction prevention education volunteers have a lot of valuable information to share with other youth inside Karen State.  DARE will create ways to make sure that those who go back can share their experience and knowledge in the most beneficial way possible. 

The DARE family has already expanded to Burma. Our Step Back to Burma strategy encourages all DARE staff and volunteers to get involved in addiction prevention and treatment in Karen State. We plan to have Addiction Workers in 20 villages in the next year and then move onto building a central treatment and training center.

The need in Karen State for education on drug use and addiction is huge. Rates of use of Yaba (methamphetamine pills) are as high as 80%. Education about what addiction is and how you can recover is almost nonexistent.

Despite the horrific conditions that have brought many refugees to the refugee camps in Thailand, there is a silver lining. As safety increases and people return to their homeland, the refugees who have gone through so much, will now be the key to progress and advancement in the villages they once left behind.

For DARE, our mission is easy: to give the youth that return the best opportunity to contribute and to create positive change in addiction outcomes in their communities upon return.

For them though, the decision to go home or move onward is a lot harder. 

It's never too young for prevention education!
Yaba Pills Credit: Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG)
Yaba Pills Credit: Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG)

In the most recent camp management meeting, camp leadership stressed the growing problem of youth substance abuse. One of the most concerning issues is the use of  “Yaba”, translating as “crazy medicine”, a methamphetamine pill packaged in candy like wrappers and sold openly and cheaply, especially in Karen State, attracting younger and younger children. Since the 2012 ceasefire it has been much easier to traffic drugs out of Burma and yaba has been flowing almost non-stop into Thailand villages, cities, and most worryingly for us, the refugee camps.

The pills are taken to increase energy to work and study or recreationally with friends to escape trauma, loss and boredom. Yaba is highly addictive and has severe psychological impacts, increasing with prolonged use.  Addiction to methamphetamines leads to violence, stealing and destruction of families and communities.

 Yaba, is relatively new in this area. Knowledge of its short term and long term effects, the addictive qualities and recognition of the pills is extremely low, accelerating the rates of uptake. Awareness education is needed across all 5 refugee camps and in the migrant community to instigate a reduction in uptake and stemming of use.

To tackle this DARE has begun, with the help of funding from Runwell and the Linda Quirk Foundation, to work on a new poster specifically aimed at youth yaba use. Two weeks ago we had a brainstorming session to come up with ideas for the design. Each of the staff took to big sheets of paper to draw what first came to mind when thinking about yaba.

There were central themes across all designs: loss, lack of control, sadness, death, help and hope. Our ideas will be translated into a professional design by a local artist and we hope to be printing in the early New Year.

This poster will go alongside a prevention education module as part our youth Frisbee Tournament.    

Our Ultimate Frisbee competitions are effective way to target the hard to reach teen population. These specifically educated teens, through the Frisbee Tournament, will be able to support our broader outreach and poster campaign further within the camps and migrant community.

Stay tuned for the final version of our poster! At the moment at drawings are a little indecipherable!

Thanks to all those who have supported and continue to support our project.

We are involved in the End of Year Campaign through GlobalGiving on our other project; Step Back to Burma. The yaba poster and prevention education will be a big part of that. If you are looking for a holiday season gift idea, look no further than a donation gift on that page! Link below.

You will see the link to our Facebook page below, like to receive more update photos and information! 

Many kind regards and happy holiday!

From the DARE team. 

Yaba sold in shop in Karen State. Credit: KHRG
Yaba sold in shop in Karen State. Credit: KHRG
School right next to shop that sells yaba (KHRG)
School right next to shop that sells yaba (KHRG)


From: The Lancet
From: The Lancet

We all know that drugs and alcohol are harmful to people and families. Most people have probably experienced or seen first-hand the damage and destruction drugs and alcohol can do for the person involved and the community around them. However, what we may not know is the exact impact of each drug on a range of different internal and external factors. Today, I’ll go through some research from Professor David Nutt on the impact of drugs and alcohol in the UK. Professor Nutt has previously worked with the UK government and founded the independent drugs research charity Drugs Science. His worked has informed much public policy in the UK and globally.

Even though this study looks at UK data, the data is similar to what we find with the substance we face on the border. It highlights the universality of the problem, even in highly contextualized situations.  

Alcohol, despite being legal almost everywhere, is overall the most harmful drug to society. Abuse of alcohol is especially harmful on factors outside of the user; injury to others, family adversity and economic cost. Alcohol is more harmful by nearly 20 points (on a ranking scale out of 100) than the second and third most harmful drugs; heroin and crack cocaine. This is something that we clearly see on the border, alcohol is a strong contributor to domestic violence and family dissatisfaction.

The three most common substances abused in the camps and villages we work with are all in the top 4 most harmful overall drugs: alcohol, opium/heroin and metamphetamine or yaba (Yaba means “crazy medicine” and is a methamphetamine) (in order of harm).

While alcohol has a larger negative impact on the people around the user, heroin and methamphetamines severely damage the user. Herorin has the largest user mortality (directly or indirectly) of any drug. Methamphetamines cause significant loss of relationships, impaired mental functioning and dependence. The use of yaba in the camps has grown significantly in recent years and the high level of dependence is especially concerning for young people.

Substance addiction has mental, physical and spiritual components. You can look at these shocking figures and think how much harm is being caused by one person’s addiction.  But that outlook doesn’t address the root cause of addiction or assist that person in recovery. At DARE we focus on the drivers of addiction rather than the substance or behaviors, although those are critically important as well. The people in our camps have experienced trauma and violence at the hands of their own government. They have in many case been forced or led to drugs and alcohol directly by perpetrators of this violence, or turned to substances to ease an untold suffering.

To help, is to understand this and to free that person from the clutches of their trauma, releasing them from the hold of addiction through that process.  

Substances abuse can exaggerate the negative impact of the trauma suffered for the user and for the community around them. Helping that user move from addiction to freedom assists not only themselves, but many around them. Positive outcomes for a whole family for the price of one!

In the border area, a recent survey completed in one of the camps that DARE does not operate in, showed that drug and alcohol abuse is the top concern for camp residents. Our work is critical for the physical and mental health of the refugee and migrants on the border.

When you support addiction treatment and prevention education, such as DARE’s program you are not just helping those addicted. You are supporting whole communities to become stronger and safer and for those in the communities to prosper to their full potential.

Thank you as always for your continued support.

Check out as well photos from one of our recent Ultimate Frisbee matches on a hot and threatening rainy season day. 

Ultimate Frisbee Competition
Ultimate Frisbee Competition



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Organization Information

DARE Network (Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Network)

Location: Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son - Thailand
Website: http:/​/​www.darenetwork.com
Project Leader:
Pam Rogers
Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son Thailand
$27,011 raised of $35,000 goal
678 donations
$7,989 to go
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