Burmese Refugee Youth Prevent Addiction & Violence

by DARE Network (Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Network)
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


Teens for Kids Prevention Training
Teens for Kids Prevention Training

Despite a military coup and martial law being imposed in a spate of political upheavals here in Thailand, life in the camps progresses as usual. In coincidental timing with the beginning of the Soccer World Cup, the rest of Thailand’s curfew is dropped and World Refugee Day opens this Friday with a huge camp vs. camp staff soccer match. Ultimate Frisbee is a very popular game with the youth, but soccer is equally as popular. The World Refugee Day match is one of the biggest camp soccer matches of the year and will showcase some top quality sportsmanship and skill.

At the same time as DARE staff are practicing their kicks and dribbles, they are also preparing for World Anti-Drug Day next week, one of the biggest days of the DARE calendar. It is important that the whole community is involved in drug and substance abuse prevention education, and as such we arrange a variety of activities to suit everyone’s taste. There will be Ultimate Frisbee competitions, music competitions and art competition as well as public awareness campaigns and a gathering of the community in the central community hall. Often, a past client and currently recovering addict will speak to the group. This is especially powerful for the teens and young people there. Hearing the story of someone in their community, who they can relate to, is a much more convincing argument than statistics and warnings.

We will update you on World Anti-Drug Day and World Refugee Day with photos at the next report!

Kids in the camps have been enjoying school holidays for the past couple of weeks. As the schools settle back in, the Teens for Kids group is refreshed and the teams are reformed. Training will be re-invigorated just in time for the World Anti-Drug Day.

The Teens for Kids volunteers are special people who we are very lucky to have as part of the program. Prevention education for young people is of the utmost importance if we are to help kids get through the tough years of teenage hood. Peer pressure, uncertainty about yourself, and a growing self-awareness all contribute to a trying time for teenagers. On top of that these kids have gone through serious trauma in their home states and face an unknown future while waiting in the camps. The Teens for Kids Program provides mutual benefit for the teens involved and the kids they teach, it gives them something to look forward, a purpose and meaning and something to put their efforts and energy towards.

So thank you all for making it a possibility. We have nearly reached the $25,000 goal!

The Teens for Kids Program is a fundamental part of our DARE Network activities and we thank all of our supporters and donors as well as our volunteers for helping to make it such a success. We hope to continue being able to do so, so if you have a spare second to donate some extra dollars, we can guarantee we will put it to inspiring use in the camps for the benefit of the children and teens and their futures.

If you ever have any questions about the programs we run please get in touch at drugfree@darenetwork.com.

All the best until next time,

The DARE Network Team 

Friends at DARE Network
Friends at DARE Network

Dear Friends,

March is the hot and dry on the Thai/Burma border but life must go on.  There is no electricity, air conditioning and water is in short supply.

 This week DARE Network took two Ultimate Frisbee Volunteers into the camp to participate in an addiction prevention activity with our Teens for Kids Program in Mae Ra Moo camp. Other kids travelled an hour to come from the nearby refuge camp Mae La Oon to take part.  All together over 60 young people managed to endure the heat and dust to learn and play together.

 To reach our goals to Prevent Addiction and Violence in the camps, we focus on the youth. 

 Our Master Trainers from our Core Staff, Saw Majer and Saw Wah Do lead the teens in some questions and answers about addiction in their camps among young people and what they were doing to prevent it.  This gave the teens the opportunity to share with each other across camps, which is a rare chance indeed. 

 Ultimate Frisbee by its nature is a “cool” game for young people to play, giving them an alternative to hanging out with nothing to do except experiment with alcohol and drugs. It is directed to all youth and children in the camps who want to play.  Ultimate also provides a chance for girls and boys to play together in a game that has no referee.  All disagreements must be negotiated and resolved by the players themselves. It is called the Spirit of the Game.  It can then be applied to many situations of conflict.

 Our volunteers Rachel and Stephen are part of the Ultimate scene in Thailand.  They travelled 4 hours from Chiang Mai and then came the further 2 ½ hours on the “off-road” into Mae Ra Moo camp.  Stephen and Rachel provided drills and instruction to help improve the game and unrelentingly endured the heat.  Bravo and thanks.  They also donated special indestructible soccer balls to DARE Network Teams provided by their non-profit company, One World Futbol Project. Chevrolet sponsors the project.   Lions and elephants have tested their soccer balls!

 All in all we had a great day. Mae Ra Moo Team prevailed over Mae La Oon but everyone upheld the “Spirit of the Game”......thanks in a huge part to you.

Frisbee drills
Frisbee drills
Playing the Game
Playing the Game
Chasing the shadow of the disc.
Chasing the shadow of the disc.
Fuelling up.
Fuelling up.
Honouring the trainers with a gift.  Surprise!
Honouring the trainers with a gift. Surprise!



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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
$26,331 raised of $35,000 goal
642 donations
$8,669 to go
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