Francis Arjona, founder of the Good Samaritan Drug Rehabilitation Centre near Pozoblanco in Southern Spain, has had a number of run-ins with drug dealers since he began working with addicts. “I have had a couple of knives at my throat and some guns held at me,” he says.
But despite the dangers posed by the dealers he says that the addicts who come to him for help are highly respectful. “I have had addicts as guests in my home but they have never taken anything,” he says.
Set on the side of a hill down a dusty potholed track surrounded by 800 olive trees the centre sits in a tranquil spot. But from November to January, when the annual olive harvest takes place, it becomes a hive of activity. During this period the 30-bed building is full with volunteers from across Europe, including England, joining the recovering addicts in the harvest.
Arjona is president of the Good Samaritan Association, which runs the centre, and is a missionary with European Christian Mission International, a Europe-wide evangelical Christian charity which supports the project. He set up the centre in 1993 after working with a number of drug addicts and finding existing services oversubscribed.
Despite having “no money and no people” Arjona was determined to set up the project due to the stream of people coming to him for help. After Greece, Spain is the second biggest importer of cocaine in Europe and as a result drug problems are rife.
Since the centre began it has treated more than 300 drug or alcohol addicts and all who are taken on have to want to come off these substances voluntarily. Seventy per cent of the addicts treated at the centre remain off drugs, apart from tobacco, compared with 12% of those involved in statutory sector run programmes.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Referrals come in from social services, ECMI offices which are present in each church in nearby Cordoba, and some hospitals where ECMI offices are also present. Government in Spain is organised into local, provincial and national tiers and the centre receives funding from each one alongside money from the EU. The olive harvesting also represents an important part of its income as the olives are pressed and the oil sold wholesale to a local farming co-operative.
Alongside the olive harvesting residents are also involved in tending to vegetables, maintaining the olive trees and looking after farmyard animals together with sporting activities.
The treatment is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy and also involves weekly group therapy and on a one-to-one basis.
“It’s very important to understand that what we do in the centre has a therapeutic benefit because we are giving people responsibilities and this gives them confidence if the supervisor or the psychologist is right next to them [supporting them],” says Raul Vazquez Carar, the psychotherapist at the centre and its director.
Carlos Navarro Martos began using cocaine later than most of the other residents at 23. He had what many would see as a normal life his own IT business in Barcelona, his own home and many friends. But a new job, which brought with it a change of crowd, combined with a seven-day week because his weekends were spent working at his parents’ restaurant until the early hours, became too much.
By 26, at the height of his addiction, he was using 5-6 grams of coke a day and was dealing to support his habit.
“It all started during the weekend but as time went by I started to take it sometimes during the week until three years afterwards I was on cocaine everyday,” he says.
“I had a job, I had money and I had a home but I didn’t know how to be happy, I wanted more and more.
“I kept on working. Cocaine helped me to reach whatever I wanted to reach until the day when I realised I really did have a problem, but then it was too late for me to stop.”
Now 33 he has been at the centre for six months after first hearing about it through a church in Castadefells, near Barcelona. Prior to arriving at the centre he had help from social services and doctors on a number of occasions but these all failed.
Martos says he recognises that the centre provides a haven from what’s outside and that when he is back in the real world maintaining emotional stability may be a struggle. When asked when he may be ready to leave he responds: “Maybe I will be the last to know. I’m confident that some day Raul will say to me okay Carlos let’s give it a try and so we will give it a try.”
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This article appeared in the 21 February issue under the headline “Olive branch for drug users”