Pioneering call centre in Tripoli targets Lebanon’s drug problem in bid for social justiceAs a result of Oum El Nour's observations at their reception centre in Zouk Mikhael, it has become evident that there exists a detrimental lack of care services for drug-related problems in the region of the North, and specifically in Tripoli. Thanks to European Union (EU) funding, in January 2017 a new service was launched in an Oum El Nour newly established centre in Tripoli which consisted in the set upof a hotline and counselling sessions in order to provide advice and treatment for drug users, tackling a problem that is present across Lebanon. The call centre initiative forms part of the wider EU-funded WAII project, which aims to contribute to the development of a comprehensive national prevention strategy against substance abuse through providing governmental and non-governmental community centres, civil society organisations (CSOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social service centres with effective mechanisms for drug prevention, beginning with Tripoli’s local communities.
WAII is implemented by Oum El Nour, in partnership with the Safadi Foundation, and in close coordination with relevant ministries and key actors in Tripoli. Despite the lack of data on drug use in Tripoli and its neighbourhoods, and despite the fact that this problem affects all strata of society, it is thought that three quarters of drug users are drawn from the most impoverished areas, according to Oum el Nour. To date, call centre users represent ages ranging from 16 to 74 years.
Initially, the call centre used to receive an average of 20 to 30 calls a month. However, this has gradually increased to reach 20 to 30 calls a week. Awareness about the centre is raised through a variety of channels, including social media, brochure distribution, NGOs, word of mouth, meetings with municipalities and a campaign run on International Drug Day on June 26. Awareness sessions hosted by WAII have also been pivotal in driving the number of calls. They target kids, youth and parents in Tripoli and its neighbourhoods, raising awareness on the causes and consequences of drug usage. Parents, in particular, are provided with useful information to be aware of signs that may indicate their children are habitual drug users.
Out of the 20 to 30 calls received per week by the call centre, 10 on average lead to a session with a counsellor. Both the calls and sessions can be conducted on an anonymous basis and are provided free of charge. A number of these sessions, which usually last up to an hour, take place with parents who have suspicions that their child may be using drugs. Most of the awareness sessions are with drug users themselves, and typically explore the background of the person seeking advice or help, as well as providing information on legal rights. The sessions also identify the level of motivation for treatment through a rehab programme, and an assessment of whether to refer the user to Oum el Nour or to a psychiatrist. Behavioural therapy or “solution focused brief therapy” can also be offered by Diana Al Alam, field counsellor for the WAII project, who trained in this domain in Australia.
According to Al Alam, the hotline and counselling services provided by the call centre represent a new start for Tripoli, allowing conversations to be initiated about the drug problem there. “We are receiving cases that we should have received 10 or 15 years ago,” said Al Alam. “There are some people we are able to treat from the start.”
“We are introducing something new in a virgin area and have started to be known,” said Bechir Aouad, WAII project manager. As a pilot project, Oum el Nour believes it will take years to see the results and for a proper drug treatment centre to be established in Tripoli, however, the new services provided by the call centre are seen as a good start and the centre is lauded for its physical presence.
This project is one of eight that fall under the EU-funded Social Justice Programme (SJP). The SJP programme’s objective is to advocate for democracy, human rights and social justice in Lebanon, promoting good governance and gender equality at its core. Overall, the SJP programme supports the strengthening of the institutional framework for the protection of human rights and the development of democratic governance in Lebanon. The WAII project contributes to social justice through its provision of care and help to people who are in dire need of it, and a way out of a situation that too often ends in jail or death.