In recent years, illicit drug abuse in Liberia has become a serious problem, as many talented individuals now transmute addicts and a problem for public health and law.
But the problem, which has consumed the country lately, is something that has caught the attention of Miatta Kamara, the Vice President for Operation of the Musician Union of Liberia (MULIB) also runs the Libx Records Foundation.
Miatta, whose foundation has been in existence for about a year, has taken an unorthodox approach to the problem: the staging of a musical competition for drug addicts, better known in these parts as ‘Zogos’.
The idea according to Miatta who goes by her stage name ‘Lady Love’, is to identify and rehabilitate individuals who have fallen prey to drugs through talents.
However, for drug users to participate, they have to voluntarily sign-up for the foundation rehabilitation program, which is opened during the course of its flagship program, the ‘ghetto musical competitions.’
“The drug abusers have to sign up willingly to be clear for 60 days where they undergo three major components of detoxing: Medicals, which comprise screening and detoxification, counseling and finally skills acquisition,” says Kamara.
“This is a holistic approach to the drug problem more than ever before and I am hopeful this will bring it down. From what we have seen so far, most drug addicts want to change and they are coming in by themselves,” she added.
“At the foundation, we are trying to STOP the stigma associated with drug addicts by working with them not only to clean them but to also grow the development of their talents, and education,” she continued.
For Miatta, the idea of allowing these addicts to come forward by themselves to detox comes after years of counseling and begging to change. As such, she realized that counseling might not just help but an avenue or event that makes them happy, however not without a condition—voluntary detoxing.
“I realized that talking and begging them to leave the street in the past was not it. That is why, they are stuck in a cycle, and easy to return to the same addict life since the change never happened willingly. Therefore, when they signed up for the ghetto talent hunt, they agreed to be cleaned up.”
The ghetto talent hunt, which first occurred last year, brought on board several drug users, some of whom are out of the street and clean including the Foundation’s Former Ambassador, Lady Piso.
Lady Piso, an inspiring and talented upcoming artist, was hooked on marijuana for a long-time but, despite being a petty drug abuser, she was a raw talent living in the ghetto and was waiting for help.
And when Libx Records Foundation came knocking, she and a few others, who were willing to leave the life on the streets and on drugs, signed up for the ghetto competition and a year later she was off the streets.
While hooked on drugs, Lady Piso said it made her to lose focus and to carry on foolish behavior.
“I smoked cannabis for three years regularly. When I took it, I used to feel free. I used to feel happy in my mind. I have no concrete reason why I started smoking, but I know that I had nothing to do. I was just moving around my area with friends. There are drug sellers everywhere in the city. So many people are using drugs—so I thought it must be good, that is why we started.”
Like Piso, Dancehall Minish, is one of the recent graduates from the Foundation’s rehabilitation home and a participant of the ghetto music competition, who has since broken into the Liberian music industry as one of the country’s best dancehall artists.
“If I had not participated in the competition, I would not know what would happen to me. I was lost but thankfully, I have found my way out and I am using my talents to reintegrate into society. Many young people are taking drugs here because of unemployment, poverty and insecurity. We want to forget what is going on around us,” Minish said.
For residents of Liberia’s ghettoes, drug abuse is just one of the biggest problems they have to contend with, but unemployment, insecurity, and poverty remain the root causes of drug abuse. Until these problems can be resolved for many in the ghettoes, the hope of finding a job and a better future remains distant.
“Initially it was just to feature one winner from the ghetto on one track. But things changed quickly due to the raw talent we saw. This is how the foundation was born and in less than a year a lot of impacts have been made,” Lady Love said. “The foundation is intended to STOP the stigma associated with drug addicts in Liberia by working with the individuals to grow their talents through education, rehabilitation, and self-sustenance. In short, to teach a man how to fish, so to speak.”