Growing up in the world today is nothing like it was to grow up in the past. Children today are exposed to technology and media that, years ago, never existed. For this reason, it is increasingly important to provide tools and resources for children to become the best versions of themselves, not only for themselves but for the community as well. From speaking with the youth, the two biggest issues they have shared are mental health and addiction. Both of these challenges the youth face require resources in the form of therapy and health education.

As a program coordinator within the East African community, I found that the best way to do this was to help implement programs that give the youth an outlet to express, educate and elevate themselves and their livelihood.

When it comes to mental health, there is an intersecting relationship with substance abuse and addiction. Due to cultural norms, mental health is taboo in the cultures of the youth that we work with. For this reason, United Women of East Africa intentionally have programs aimed to inform community members to create prevention strategies to deal with substance abuse.

Our guest speaker was twenty-four year old Osman shared his experience with drug use and how he turned his life around. Over the past several years, we have seen many community members overdose and passed away as a result of fentanyl. Osman emphasized the way in which fentanyl was integrated with other drugs and how these were able to control both his mind and body, leaving him with a sense of dependency. He then stressed how he allowed other aspects of his life to fall apart in order to feed his addiction. He began stealing from his loved ones and engaging in other activities that would allow him to have easier access to the drug.

Fortunately, Osman was able to realize the extent to which this drug was not only ruining his life, but the lives of the people around him which gave him the motivation that he needed to seek help through a rehabilitation program.

Today, Osman shared that he has become a motivational figure within the community, who many people look up to for his resilience and dedication to turning his life around as he will begin his journey at San Diego State University and plans on continuing to inspire others by becoming a teacher. The power of his story was important for our community members as many have experienced similar hardships or for those who have seen their friends and family become dependent on a substance in order to escape their realities.

Osman’s story and the event overall was able to shine a light on a difficult topic that deeply affects our community but yet, has always been an uncomfortable topic to discuss. Through this event, the youth members were able to see the negative effects of drug use and deter them from engaging with such, despite the accessibility of these drugs within our community and in our neighborhoods.