SUBSTANCE ABUSE, VEP AND SOCIAL CRIME AT HIGHER LEARNING INSTITUTIONS

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By Lucky Thebe

  • Institutions of higher learning are tackling the pervasive issue of substance abuse, which adversely affects students’ academic performance, mental health, and overall well-being, necessitating a comprehensive approach encompassing support services, financial aid, and a nurturing campus environment.
  • The Department of Social Development has launched a campaign to raise awareness about substance abuse among tertiary institutions, recognising the significant impact of substance abuse on students’ lives and academic pursuits. Collaborative efforts with stakeholders aim to prevent tragedies like the one at Scenery Park in East London and engage students in proactive intervention.
  • By fostering partnerships and implementing targeted interventions, the Department of Social Development and educational institutions are addressing substance abuse and promoting student well-being, as highlighted during an information session at Buffalo City TVET College, where students voiced concerns over challenges such as unplanned pregnancies and the importance of sexual health education.

Institutions of higher learning are grappling with the prevalent issue of substance abuse, which significantly impacts students’ academic performance, mental health, and overall well-being. Common challenges such as substance abuse, financial strain, mental health concerns, and academic pressure underline the need for a comprehensive approach that encompasses adequate support services, financial assistance, and a nurturing campus environment.

Recognising the urgency of this issue, the Department of Social Development has launched a campaign to visit tertiary institutions and raise awareness about substance abuse. Students often turn to substances as a coping mechanism for the pressures encountered at university, highlighting the importance of proactive intervention.

Approaching the second anniversary of the tragic incident at Scenery Park in East London, where 21 underage individuals lost their lives at Enyobeni Tavern, the Department collaborated with stakeholders to host an information session at Buffalo City TVET College in East London. The session aimed to engage students on the dangers associated with substance abuse and prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.

Faith Namathe, the Manager responsible for Programme Development and Implementation at the Department of Social Development, highlighted that visiting higher education institutions is a strategic component of the department’s awareness-raising efforts. 

“This initiative is grounded in research indicating a high prevalence of alcohol and drug use within tertiary institutions. As the custodian of the National Drug Master Plan, the Department of Social Development is committed to implementing interventions aimed at mitigating the impact of substance abuse,” she said.

Namathe further explained the department’s approach, stating, “Our first level of prevention is about providing information to delay the onset of use, and for those who need assistance, we offer interventions.” The department also provides support through tools like the Alcohol, Smoking, and Substance Involvement Test (ASSIST) to screen for substance use and offers assistance and intervention as needed” 

Representing Buffalo City TVET College, Rhona Finlayson, the Assistant Director of Student Support Services highlighted the importance of health and wellness support for students. 

“Our students require ongoing support for their health and wellness alongside their academic pursuits. While academic achievement is crucial, without adequate wellness and health support, students may struggle to meet their academic standards. We collaborate with various partners, such as the Department of Social Development, to implement a range of programs addressing issues like substance abuse, crime prevention, and teenage pregnancy. These partnerships are essential, as these are common challenges impacting our learners.”

“The turnout was good, especially with the participation of our partners, including the Eastern Cape Liquor Board, Masibumbane GBV Programme, Higher Health and the Department of Health. Through this campaign, we aimed to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, urging students to undergo testing and adopt preventive measures. Our social workers encourage students to prioritize their overall health and well-being through a holistic approach. Additionally, in collaboration with Non-Profit Organisations (NGOs), we provide various services, including family planning, to address the health needs of our students,” she explained.

By fostering partnerships and implementing targeted interventions, the Department of Social Development and educational institutions are working together to address substance abuse and promote the well-being of students across South Africa’s higher learning institutions.

One of the learners who attended the session, *Abusiswe Diko* (19) from Butterworth, who attended the session, shared that learners in the institution are grappling with numerous challenges. She expressed deep concern over the alarming rate of pregnancies among girls, leading to school dropouts, frequent absenteeism, and a worrying surge in substance abuse.

“The sad reality is that many girls abandon their education due to unplanned pregnancies. Too often, these pregnancies stem from sheer neglect, exacerbated by the scourge of substance abuse. It is a devastating cycle of circumstances that robs these young women of their dreams and aspirations,” said Diko.

Reflecting on her experience during the session, Abusiswe emphasised the importance of using a condom.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of using condoms to prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, learning about the significance of PreP has enlightened me to understand the critical need for proactive measures in safeguarding one’s sexual health,” she said.

Attending this information session holds immense significance for me,” shared Sonwabiso James (22), a second-year student.

 “It’s a crucial opportunity to prioritise my health, particularly in understanding my HIV status and exploring available options in the event of a positive outcome.”

 

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