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Northern Uganda Schools Tackle Post-Covid Drug Abuse Crisis :: Uganda Radionetwork
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Northern Uganda Schools Tackle Post-Covid Drug Abuse Crisis

Hellen Lamunu, the Head-teacher of Sacred Heart Girls School and Northern Uganda Regional Chairperson of the Association of Secondary Head Teachers’ Association expressed concern about the need for learner rehabilitation.
Students marched to recieved Minister of Education on Friday-Photo By Simon Wokorach

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Educational institutions are still grappling with the aftermath of the CoVID-19 pandemic, particularly in Northern Uganda, where schools are facing challenges in rehabilitating learners dealing with drug and substance abuse disorders. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, the government closed all educational institutions to control the spread of the virus, affecting around 15 million learners. 

Although some schools partially reopened later in the year, a second closure lasting 22 months further disrupted education. Upon resumption of classes, schools organized counseling sessions for both students and teachers to cope with the "new normal." However, the mental well-being of learners remains a significant concern. 

Hellen Lamunu, the Head-teacher of Sacred Heart Girls School and Northern Uganda Regional Chairperson of the Association of Secondary Head Teachers’ Association expressed concern about the need for learner rehabilitation. She noted that cases of indiscipline among students have increased, and drug abuse, including substances like khat and opium, is a prevalent problem.

Lamunu attributed this to parents neglecting their responsibility in shaping their children's morals during the long lockdown period.  

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Pamela Okwir Angwech, the Headteacher of Laroo Seed Secondary School, emphasized the importance of dialoguing with learners to boost their confidence to focus on their studies. Judit Agenorwot, a student at Sacred Heart Girls School, called for protection from sexual exploitation by drug abusers both at school and at home.

“I used to think that I can’t go back to school, we fear how we look but with counseling from school, I am confident that I shall one day lead,” Agenorwot said in an interview. The education institutions have adopted peer-to-peer education to address health complications and provide support to affected students.   Gulu University and the East African Institute for Management Science are among those incorporating counseling services and peer support programs. 

At Gulu University, Geoffrey Namanya, the Guild Health Minister revealed that the University has designated counseling services in different departments and faculties. “We have only one recruited professional University Counsellor who is overwhelmed but we were able to manage the crisis through peer-to-peer education though few of the students were returned home for close monitoring of their mental conditions,” Namanya told Uganda Radio Network on Monday evening. 

At the East African Institute for Management Science, Guild President Stephen Otim Palaring said that with a lack of professional counselors, the Guild Government has integrated counseling services in their activities with peer-to-peer support programs, which has reduced the level of anxiety at the school. “We have those who didn’t return to school after the lockdown, some were due to financial constraint while others were drugs-related,” Otim said. Bishop Joshua Lwere, the National Overseer of Born Again Churches, highlighted a disconnect between learning institutions and reinforcing spiritual values, contributing to an identity crisis among learners.

“The young people don’t have their points of reference to fortify them with God and we can only see that with the current identity crisis, which requires urgent attention,” Bishop Lwere explained. At a recent youth summit in Gulu, Minister of Education Janet Kataaha Museveni cautioned teachers against misconduct and sex scandals in schools, urging schools to protect children from negative influences brought by globalization.

“There is an enemy who is looking to hurt God but he can only do it by hurting those God loves and you should keep watching that our children are protected from those vices which are coming with forces of globalization, it’s against our morals and it’s not accepted in this Country,” Janet Museveni said. Freddie Odong, a Psychiatrist with Sheffield Mental Organization attached to Gulu Regional Referral Hospital Mental Health Unit, revealed that substances like mairungi negatively impact mental ability, leading to common mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. 

He noted that a significant percentage of mental illness cases in Northern Uganda result from drug and substance abuse disorders, and managing such patients is challenging due to the lack of diagnostic machines and specific treatment drugs. Gulu Regional Referral Hospital receives on average 10 new patients with mental illnesses while between 400 to 500 patients seek treatment at the facility weekly, most of whom return for care and treatment on appointments with the Psychiatrists.