Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jun 2008
Source: Penticton Western (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Penticton Western
Author: Tracy Clark
Bookmark: (Youth)


A growing drug problem among teens in Penticton has young local 
leaders to encouraging youth to speak out.

"Youth feel like they are not taken seriously," said youth advocate 
Elaine Alec, who along with her husband Rob Sawan, helped to organize 
the Penticton Rally Against Drugs near Penticton Secondary School on 
Thursday. "We are trying to show them how to get active and use their 
voice in a positive way."

Along with Sawan and Alec, the rally included members of the South 
Okanagan Aboriginal Youth Group and other Penticton youth who held up 
placards with messages such as "Drugs destroy lives" and "Protect 
future generations."

The couple, who spends their time working with youth in the South 
Okanagan and doing talks across the continent, say they organized the 
rally in response to the major increase in the amount of drug use 
among local teens.

Alec said she and Sawan often hear about youth overdosing, being 
raped and being forced into drug dealing. The drugs they are seeing 
the biggest increase in use is crack cocaine and crystal meth, which 
they said is being peddled to some children as young as 11 and 12.

Because of their relationships with many local youth, Alec and her 
husband often receive calls from parents, or even other young people 
who are concerned about a friend who is using drugs or drinking. 
These calls are most commonly about youth who haven't returned home 
after a night out. It is in these cases, that Alec said they often 
find youth who have been partying all night, are passed out or in 
some cases have overdosed and are in hospital.

While she said teens using drugs has been an issue for many years, 
Alec is concerned that the community has become apathetic and simply 
turned away rather than addressing the problem. She is hoping the 
rally will be the first step to changing those attitudes.

"If we lead by example then it can take on a ripple effect," she said.

While not everyone invited to the rally turned up, Alec said the 
message they were sending did receive support through e-mails from 
many community leaders. And it was clear Thursday that the community 
supported their campaign as cars passing the rally honked in support. 
Sawan welcomed the show of support but challenged the community to go further.

"Put some action behind those honks," he said.

They are hoping that the rally will not only educate and empower 
youth to speak out, but show them that when they do the community 
will be listening.

"We want to get more youth issues to the forefront," she said, adding 
that youth too often issues involving youth are managed without their 
input or totally ignored. "The kids need to be involved."

Ultimately Alec said she would like youth to be able to say, "I can 
make a change, I do have a voice."
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