Tree of Unity lobbies for a drug, substance free South Africa

Tree of Unity offers basic free services such as haircuts, bathing place and food.

Alcohol and substance abuse is driven by the frame of mind that there is hope that something can fill up a void and make problems go away. Before an addict knows it, they are addicted which for some may lead to a lifelong battle of trying to be clean, some losing the battle to death.

Rickson Gange was motivated to register an NGO in 2019 after he witnessed a horrific death that resulted from drug abuse. “That experience changed my entire life, a sight I never want to see again”, he says.

The name of the foundation is called Tree of Unity also known as TOU. The focus of the foundation is to reduce alcohol and substance abuse within the central business district of Johannesburg and surrounding areas through different outreach and educational programs.

According to Relapse Prevention South Africa, drug and alcohol abuse refers to the obsessive use of habit-forming drugs, in order to experience various psychological effects. Therefore, Tree of Unity has identified the most vulnerable sub groups that have the highest probability of being drawn to influencing their behaviour through drugs and substances.

The focus is on youth, children and women, internal and international immigrates, students and LGBTQIA. Furthermore, the foundation has designed programs specifically suited to each sub-group in order to address unique needs thereof and provide group appropriate support and service.

“The starting point for us is to meet where the substance user is at, establish and build a trustful and caring relationship by offering basic free services such as haircuts, bathing place and food”, explains Rickson.

After a series of contact with the user, they realise that care is readily available which makes them accept rehabilitation and treatment from the foundation. The relationships formed are a lifelong commitment because even after they complete rehab successfully, they still need help to stay clean.

Tree of Unity outreach program in Johannesburg cbd

The phase according to the Tree of Unity’s model, approach and program is known as the Maintenance phase, which is said to be the last phase in the model.

Prior to the last phase, users undergo four different stages. The model is grounded in the trans-theoretical theory where at every stage, engagement with substance abusers help them move to the next phase.

TOU has formed vital partnerships with SANCA and the Department of Health clinics because they are not fully equipped to run the rehabilitation program from start to finish. All the marvellous work achieved by the NGO has been solely dependent on volunteer workers and social auxiliary workers.

At some point, that hinders the consistency of professional help for clients. The foundation wants to spread to different provinces around South Africa and continue to help thousands of users.

Drug and substance abuse has increased in South Africa. The after effects caused are damaging not only to the body but also to communities. The increased substance abuse is destroying the future of the youth and elderly people. The continuation of usage has horrific result such as increased cases of rape.

“We are therefore appealing to funders to assist with salaries for social workers and social auxiliary workers in order to curb the damaging effects of substance and drug abuse in South Africa”, Rickson pleads.

In addition, he explains that some of the infrastructure at their offices and centre has been vandalised which further handicaps the ability to provide quality services including training and skills development. Rickson funds the operation of the NGO from his own pocket, which has proven to be challenging at times.

Gange emphasises that more foundations similar to Tree of Unity need to be established in order to accelerate the cure of the disease which is taking over the country.

In conclusion, he says: “we all need someone to listen or to cry to and everyone is going through different challenges and tested in their own way. Some choices made in a single moment are not reversible but if we can try to stand together with less judgement, we can create a drug and substance free South Africa which will rapidly spread awareness that prevention is better than cure.”

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Tel: 064 025 9195/060 702 1234