Pubdate: Tue, 03 Aug 2004
Source: Daily Star, The (Lebanon)
Author: Mayssam Zaaroura
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Group Targets Intersections, Summer Festivals

Some Are Inspired To Work On The Issue After Having Seen Friends And 
Acquaintances Succumb To Chemical Dependency

BEIRUT: Most people remember their high school and college years as a 
period consumed with studying, partying and fretting over zits. Summertime 
would also include days of lounging on the beach or playing sports. Come 
winter, and one might hit the ski slopes.

But this is not the case for a group of volunteers, aged 17 to 24, who have 
been filling many of the country's cross-sections to raise awareness - from 
Beirut to Beiteddine - about the dangers of drug use.

These youngsters forgo a cool dip in the pool to stand five hours under the 
hot summer sun, selling scented car fresheners for as little as LL250, in 
an attempt to combat drug use and raise awareness.

Maroun Abdel Khaleh is 20 years old, and he is studying accounting at 
university. Mosbah Adad is 19 and is studying biology, while Hala Almis and 
Jessica Matar are 18 and 17, respectively, and are finishing high school in 

Each of these four youths has given up at least one summer for the past few 
years to dedicate time to raising awareness on an issue related to the 
environment, health and making Lebanon a better country for young people to 
live in - and in a way, perhaps prevent emigration.

"We're part of a charity organization - The National Association (Al 
Jamee'a al-Watania), headed by Tony Zammar - that has been working for 
several years to encourage the Lebanese people to love their country a 
little more by promoting the Lebanese Lira, cleaning the country's shores, 
encouraging Lebanese farmers and products, spreading happiness to 
children," said Abdel Khaleh.

This year, the focus is educating teens about the dangers of drugs, because 
according to the kids "drug use starts when you're a teen and you're 
experimenting, then you get hooked on it."

The "youth against drugs" campaign started in the heat of the summer 
season, around July 1, and is expected to continue for another month. 
Another of its aims is to provide any kind of help for other charity 
organizations battling drug use and trying to rehabilitate addicts.

As none of the volunteers make any money out of this venture, it is then 
obvious that they see it as a moral obligation to do their part in the 
community. In this specific campaign, some of them have truly been affected 
by seeing first hand the effects of drugs on friends and young people.

Almis is so anti-drugs she almost places cigarettes in that category. "I 
don't even touch cigarettes," she said. "I've seen what all these things do 
to others, why would I get myself into that?"

Abdel Khaleh is in this specific campaign for a more personal reason.

"I used to have a friend," he said quietly, "we were very close and he lost 
his way I guess, with drugs. His parents sent him abroad because he 
couldn't handle being in Lebanon anymore."

Asked whether they believed drug use in Lebanon was on the rise, the four 
chorused an agreement, almost shouting that not only did they think, or 
believe it, they were actually seeing it.

"A few days ago I was in a club and I went to the toilet," said Maroun. "I 
saw a kid, he really couldn't have been more than 14 years old, and he was 
lining up some cocaine on the counter. I just stood there looking at him, 

Another source who wished to remain anonymous also spoke of an incident at 
a club where she found a woman she didn't know in her car, near unconscious 
and overdosing on heroine and Ketamine.

"Kids are so depressed here nowadays," said Adad. "They turn to drugs for 
escapism and if you go to Monnot Street or any of the clubs and bars, the 
least you'll find is someone smoking marijuana."

"If the government wants to help," added Matar, "that's where they should 
start; watch the clubs. They got enthusiastic about it a while back and 
they were cracking down on several places, but it was only for a short while."

"But that was probably during election time or to shift the public's notice 
from the war in Iraq or the Palestinian issue. But if they want, the Civil 
Defense is the only group that can really make the difference and control 
this issue," they added.

Speaking in a manner far older than their young years, the volunteers 
discussed politics - national and international - with the skill and 
knowledge that can only come from diligently following social issues and 
genuinely caring about their country.

"There were billboards being set up all over by the American University of 
Science and Technology," according to Abdel Khaleh, "and several bank 
members saw us working and they gave us brochures to give out against drug 
use too."

"This is a campaign approved and signed by Interior Minister Elias Murr 
himself," said Adad. "So hopefully when people see us doing this they'll 
get interested too."

However, rather than unanimously encourage and help the youths, people 
driving by in their cars have often been rude, mocking and downright 

"Some people have been really awful," said Almis. "They either ignore us or 
even some have blatantly said 'we use drugs, so leave us alone.'"

"What kills me the most," added Abdel Khaleh angrily, "is when some people 
see us coming, they roll up their windows and lock the door! It's not like 
we're going to jump in and attack them!"

The girls' and boys' experiences have also differed in some ways.

"We get 'propositioned' quite a bit," said Almis. "Guys in their fancy cars 
are like: 'give us your telephone number and we'll give you money.' We just 
ignore them and move on."

"That's the only good thing about the traffic light," added Abdel Khaleh.

"We're not asking for much," said Matar. "A simple 'thank you for your 
effort' or 'good luck' would suffice. Some people do say that and that's 
what keeps us going.

"We accept the LL250 because it's the gesture that counts. Some people 
don't have money to help but they do anyway, with LL1,000. That's enough."

It's these little gestures that have taken the youths all over the country.

"We went to Beiteddine, because during the festival month, everyone was 
going there and we thought it would be a good way to raise awareness. We're 
also going to Jounieh, Tyre and Aley... we're not going to Baalbek though," 
said Abdel Khaleh jokingly, in reference to an area formerly known to 
cultivate marijuana. "Although in the villages, they treat us better than 
city people. Maybe it's the fresh air."

However, when it comes to picking their audience, the youths have no 
specific criteria.

"We don't pick anyone specifically because of their car or clothes or 
whatever. Every one is treated equally," said Adad. "It's our duty to 
spread this message ... to everyone."

"People are leaving," added Almis. "If we, the youth, don't help, who will?"

And as they spread this message day by day, the 70 or so youths gain 
something in return.

"The friends you make through this experience are your friends for life," 
said Abdel Khaleh. "Plus, I want to secure my future and right now, Lebanon 
isn't the place that will provide me with the right job or life. Maybe if 
we all help a little now, when I finish university, it might be a better 
place to stay and live in, so I don't have to emigrate."
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