Putting life back together

Putting life back together

Drug problems are always difficult, but as Melanie Leung reports, ethnic minorities in Hong Kong face greater challenges finding help for addiction

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(From left) Rai Ashesh, Alman Chan and Gurung Sanjan share a light moment.
(From left) Rai Ashesh, Alman Chan and Gurung Sanjan share a light moment.
Photo: Melanie Leung/SCMP

Rai Ashesh was 13 when his parents moved to Hong Kong to work. Left behind in Nepal, he felt lonely, and started smoking. Soon he moved on to drugs, but they were hard to find.

When Rai turned 18 and moved to Hong Kong, trouble really started. "It's the paradise of drugs," says Rai. "Here, if you have money, you can get drugs."

A year later, he was mixing heroin, marijuana and cough syrup as his daily drug recipe.

One cold February day, Rai overdosed. "I thought I was dying," he recalls. "My friends were also dying from overdoses. I saw a friend, and a couple of hours later, he was dead outside a public toilet."

That's when Rai decided to quit. He found help at Christian Zheng Sheng College, a school for young drug addicts.

"We don't differentiate ourselves saying 'I'm Chinese, and you're Nepalese'," says the school's principal, Alman Chan Siu-cheuk. "Here, we're all Hong Kong citizens."

While most anti-drug schemes only last a year, Zheng Sheng requires a two-year commitment. Students have a strict routine of lessons, chores and activities. It was hard for Rai at first, but, encouraged by older students, he didn't quit. Now 23, he understands Cantonese, and is taking the DSE next year.

Gurung Sanjan, 19, started doing hard drugs when he was 16. But a dangerous mix of heroin, ice and methadone got too much for him, and he decided to get help.

Before he could start at Zheng Sheng, he had to detox for a week at Caritas Wong Yiu Nam Centre. Withdrawal, though, is a very painful process, and after a week of suffering, he no longer wanted to go to Zheng Sheng. Rai, however, went to the detox centre to convince him.

"He's been supporting me since the first day," says Gurung, who has now been at the school for a month.

Government statistics show an increase in the percentage of ethnic minority drug abusers.

When they try to quit, many of them turn to methadone, a chemical substitute for heroin that helps ease the craving. According to a 2010 study, more than 74 per cent of Nepalese drug addicts head to methadone clinics where for just HK$1, they are given a dose, which they take under supervision.

Wyman Tang Wai-man, a former researcher at Chinese University who led the study, interviewed many Nepalese who use the clinics. "When they don't have money, they take methadone. When they have money, they go back to taking heroin," says Tang.

Other rehabilitation services also fail to meet the needs of ethnic minorities. For example, it is difficult for Nepalese females to find a centre that will treat them.

Also, many non-governmental organisations have Christian roots, so people with different religious beliefs are reluctant to join their programmes.

Government campaigns aren't very effective either. "The translations make no sense," says Binay Shah, chairman of the Hong Kong Integrated Nepalese Society, pointing to an anti-drug poster. In English it says "cannabis is addictive", but the Nepali version literally means "marijuana good food yes".

Secondary school students working with Kely Support Group might have the answer. In July, they launched It Begins with One Story: Resources for a Drug-Free Hong Kong, an anti-drug booklet for non-Chinese speakers.

One contributor, Trisha Wong, 15, from Chinese International School, says most anti-drug campaigns are patronising. "They tell us we'll get addicted after using marijuana just once," says Trisha. "We're not idiots." She hopes the book - written by teens, for teens - will be more effective.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Putting life back together

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