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Zimbabwean Youth Use Art to Combat Drug Abuse, Support Mental Health

FILE - A man blows smoke after inhaling crystal meth in Glen View township, Harare, Zimbabwe on June 9, 2021.

BULAWAYO — As the world marked the annual International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking this week, some youth-led organizations in Zimbabwe’s second biggest city, Bulawayo, teamed up to help raise awareness — using art — about the scourge and encourage young people to stay clean.

One of the walls of a liquor store at a small shopping center in a township of Bulawayo is decked with a large mural with varied drawings and messages painted in bright colors and is hard to miss.

The wall painting was done with the permission of the elderly shop owner by a youth organization known as Yellow World.

Program coordinator Michelle Mulingo says this is part of various efforts that her organization is working on. They are cooperating with other local youth organizations and relevant government departments to help raise awareness about mental health wellness and combating drug abuse.

"We are focusing on depression, anxiety and drug and substance abuse. Mental health issues are viewed as a taboo in our society … when you tell people that you have depression, they laugh at you; when you tell people you have anxiety, they will say what’s that?," Mulingo told VOA.

There are no official statistics available but drug and substance abuse has become a national cause for concern because of increasing addiction especially among youths, particularly in the urban townships. This, as the southern Africa nation grapples with high unemployment and on-going economic problems.

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa and other senior government officials often use public platforms to highlight the problem. In April, Mnangagwa announced that government was setting aside ZWL500 million dollars ($1,400,000) to tackle the problem, including setting up public rehabilitation centers.

The rehabilitation facilities that are available are private and expensive for most ordinary people.

Pride Mujoli, program director for Yellow World, said his organization to use art.

"We feel that art communicates (in a) bigger (way) than verbal communication. We did this so that the community can put in their minds the thought about mental health," Mujoli said.

Bulawayo resident, Prince Saurombe, says he has a teenage child who is fighting drug abuse and says he believes such an initiative helps bring the problem out in the open.

Besides the art work, Yellow World is collaborating with others, going into schools and youth centers, to talk about mental health as well as drug and substance abuse.

Kuda Kunze, an independent adolescent and family counselor who also collaborates with the various organizations, shares the view that part of what is worsening the problem among the youths is that mental health is not taken seriously nationally, and wants the government to do more including implementing stiffer penalties for drug lords.

"We need the government to build infrastructure that is going to stand as rehabilitation centers, and also we need more counselors for those people. If someone gets the help that they need with the support of government, going full force, assisting these young people, in ten years to come we will be talking about a different story in a good way," Kunze said.

Earlier this year police launched an on-going nationwide program to arrest both drug peddlers and users. But some critics allege that this will not help much as some of the people involved in the drug trade have powerful connections.