‘My terrible drug life’

Khanyi Ndabeni

“I STARTED using drugs when I was in Std 2. I think I was about 11 at the time. My cousin and I were having a sleep-over at a friend’s house. By the time I was 14, I was hooked on tik.”

This was the life of photojournalist Sergio Baartzes from Bethelsdorp, who told yesterday how 14 months of rehabilitation with Teen Challenge in Cape Town had changed his life.

The Christian rehab centre will host a three-day workshop in Port Elizabeth, targeted at schools in the townships and northern areas. The workshop will also focus on educating the youth about drugs.

One of the speakers will be the Rev Dr Jacobus Nomdoe.

With the help of Bhisho MPL Christian Martin and Sapphire Road Primary School principal Bruce Damons, Teen Challenge aims to set up a branch in Port Elizabeth.

Baartzes, 27, who is now based in Cape Town where he is a freelance photojournalist, spends much of his time sharing his experience with drugs with the community.

He said that on the night he first experimented with alcohol at the tender age of 11, he and his friends had been left unsupervised. “With no adult around, we started experimenting with alcohol and dagga.

“To us it was just an experiment, but I became addicted.

“By the time I was in Std 5 [Grade 7] I was doing both ecstasy and mandrax, but ended up using tik permanently as it was easy to get on the street and it was cheap,” he said.

Baartzes, who went to Westering High, said he had been to three drug rehabilitation centres before attending Teen Challenge and always relapsed because the treatment was forced on him and he did not see the need for change.

Out of desperation, his father approached a pastor for help and he referred them to Teen Challenge. “At the time, drugs had affected everything in my life badly. You see, once you are addicted to them, they become your most important thing in life. It was the only thing I could think of when I woke up. I did not know how much I was hurting and disappointing my parents,” he said.

With the help of the centre, Baartzes warns others not to take the same path he did.

He was admitted to the centre in July 2010. He spent 14 months learning how he could control himself and overcome the cravings. He learned to love himself and said God had provided him with the “winning formula”.

Organisers of the workshop, which will be held on Sunday, said they had sent a request to Eastern Cape premier Noxolo Kiviet to discuss the viability of opening a branch of the centre in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Martin said: “Most of the children in my constituency have a drug problem. I’ve received requests [for help] from parents … [who] do not have enough money to send these children to private drug rehab centres. When I visited Teen Challenge in Cape Town recently, about 13 of the youths in the centre were from Nelson Mandela Bay.”

Damons said by opening a centre in the city and hosting workshops, they could overcome the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse and prostitution.

Teen Challenge will visit six schools in the city over the three days. In the evenings, they will be working from the Ebenezer tent in Jacksonville.

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