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For the past few years, the tiny West African country of Guinea-Bissau has become a key transit point for drugs traffickers shipping cocaine to Europe. This has led to a rise in the number of crack-cocaine addicts. Those struggling to quit drugs face an uphill struggle in a country with few medical resources.
Under the shade of a large mango tree, a group of recovering drug addicts make tea and chat.
Thirty-five-year-old Karamba Kebe sits among them. This is his second week at "Desavio Jovem", a drug rehabilitation center in Guinea-Bissau.
Kebe says he was recently deported from Portugal.
Kebe says he got into trouble while working in the drugs business. He was caught and sent back to Africa, he says, with nothing. They said he was crazy. But, Kebe says, he is not crazy. He says his family took him in despite everything and sent him to the center to get treatment for his my drug problem. Kebe says he was in very bad shape.
Kebe is one of 55 recovering drug addicts and alcoholics currently living in the center. Two one-story, whitewashed buildings sit in a tranquil spot on a river inlet, 30 kilometers to the northwest of the capital. This is the only drug rehabilitation center in the country.
In the past few years, the amount of cocaine passing through West Africa has risen dramatically. Between 2005 and 2007, 33 tons of cocaine were seized in the region compared to prior seizures of one ton for the entire African continent. The United Nations estimates more than one quarter of the drugs consumed in Europe passes through West Africa.
Father Domingos Té established "Desavio Jovem" in 2002 with help from the international drug rehab organization, Global Teen Challenge. Té says he has seen changes during the past few years.
Té says in Guinea-Bissau people use cannabis. But with the introduction of stimulant drugs like cocaine, lots of young people have gone crazy. They are using the drug in the form of crack and this causes so many social problems, Té says. Some use violence and steal to get money to buy these drugs. Té says this is a huge worry because more and more of our young people are consuming cocaine.
Most addicts in Guinea Bissau use crack cocaine. It gives a cheap quick high, is highly addictive and has one of the severest withdrawals of any drug. With no therapy drug like methadone to calm the physical cravings, medical supervision is very important for an addict's recovery.
Té's center helps addicts get off drugs through a faith-based, residential rehabilitation program, based on methods used by Global Teen Challenge's rehabilitation centers elsewhere in the world.
Six staff members have been trained in counseling, but there are no psychologists, no doctors, and no medicine. The most the center can offer is guidance, a mattress and meals.
Augostinho Té, a cousin of Father Domingos Té, is a former drug addict who works at the center. Despite its meager resources, he says the center saved his life.
Augostinho says he is grateful to Pastor Domingos. The people in the center welcomed him and educated him, he says. Now he has a home with a wife and a son. He says he is living a happy life that would not have been possible without the center.
But, with few resources and a flood of cocaine passing through Guinea Bissau, many young people face an uphill struggle to free themselves from drugs.