Tough love at Church-run center for Myanmar heroin addicts
Uncompromising methods do not find great support
Picture: Reuters/Damir Sagolj
A year ago, Wun Naung Lay left his village in northern Myanmar to look for work and found heroin instead. Today, the skeletal 25-year-old is locked up and going cold turkey beneath a filthy blanket in a bamboo cell.
Wun Naung Lay is one of more than 600 young men who have undergone primitive drug rehabilitation at the Youth for Christ Centre, a collection of tin-roofed shacks on a riverbank in Kachin State.
Myanmar is the world's second-largest producer of opium after Afghanistan and use of its derivative, heroin, is widespread. The center's popularity is a testament both to the severity of Myanmar's drug problem and the lack of options for users in a poor country where modern treatment programs are rare.
It offers a 40-day "course" of prayer, Bible study and devotional singing, with football and weightlifting for those strong enough.
Detox begins in the Special Prayer Room, as the bamboo cell is called. New arrivals are locked in around the clock for seven to ten days.
"At first I just wanted to go home, but now I'm feeling a bit better," said Wun Naung Lay, whose forearms are perforated with needle holes.
The Youth for Christ Centre is the brainchild of Ndingi Laja, 45, a former convict and folk singer better known by his stage name Ahja.
A wiry and intense figure, Ahja believes his devotion to God helped him kick heroin while serving a nine-year sentence for drug use. Founded in 2009, a year after his release, the center is an attempt at faith-based abstinence on a larger scale.
His methods find little support among global health experts, who say voluntary drug treatment is not only more humane but also more effective.
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