KUALA LUMPUR: Waiting constantly for free handouts of food and personal items was what eventually turned Ma Kong Loi away from a life of drugs and wrongdoing.
Ma, 44, from Bentong, Pahang, started smoking at 14 while still in school. Soon after, he was involved in gangsterism and was expelled from school when he was 15. He was on marijuana by then.
When he was 33, he was sent to the Pusat Serenti rehabilitation centre in Raub. There, he met a visiting pastor who asked him if he needed anything.
I asked for money, but of course I did not get it, said Ma, who spoke in Cantonese during an interview where he talked about his struggle to get off drugs with the help of Malaysian Care, a non-profit organisation that helps disadvantaged and less fortunate segments of society.
The pastor instead brought him food and clothes, and on one occasion gave him the telephone number of his church.
I took it to please the pastor so that I could continue to receive free things, admitted Ma.
Heavy drug abuse and being in and out of prison eventually took their toll on Ma, and he decided to call the pastor for help.
The pastor referred him to Malaysian Cares halfway house, Rumah Petros in Old Klang Road, where he stayed for three months.
I wanted freedom to do my own things, so I left. My old friends then came back into my life and led me back to drugs, Ma said.
He called up Rumah Petros again, which referred him this time to a private rehabilitation centre in Semenyih.
Upon my 'graduation' from the rehab programme, I called up the pastor and Rumah Petros. I was very grateful to them for what they had done and I wanted to give them something in return, he said.
That was six years ago. Since then, Ma has been a fulltime worker at Rumah Petros. He also got married early this year.
Being once infamous in his hometown, Ma is now a role model for young people there.
He would receive calls from parents whose children were involved in drugs and be asked to speak to them, said Pax Tan, senior director of Communication and Prison, Drugs and AIDS, Malaysian Care, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary next week with a thanksgiving dinner to raise funds.
Tan stressed that after care was crucial for effective drug rehabilitation.
We need real political will to offer an alternative treatment and rehabilitation system with emphasis on after care, he said.
There is a high relapse rate of 70% to 85% among those discharged from Pusat Serenti rehabilitation centres, according to the National Drug Agency.
As of December 2003, there were at least 350,000 to 450,000 drug addicts in the country. Last year, there was an average of 1,683 new drug addicts every month.
Drug dependents must seek help. They have a sickness, a disorder, and need intervention. We must see them as people who need help and not as criminals, said Tan.
Malaysian Care will celebrate its 25th anniversary on July 18, 2004 with a Thanksgiving Dinner at 6pm at Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel in Bandar Sunway. All donations from the event will be channelled to the works of Malaysian Care. For further details, contact Kenneth Wong at 03-90582102 ext 110.
Did you find this article insightful?