A different kind of surrender
(A four-part series on why there is hope for drug users and pushers)
Fe Mantuhac Barino, 59, could not remember a time when her life was not affected by illegal drugs.
The chief executive officer of Duros Group of Companies, a highly successful Cebu-based construction and real estate firm, has been challenged by relatives who are drug pushers and users, and she is helping them live drug-free lives.
Born and raised in Toledo City, Barino recalled moving her entire family from their birthplace to rescue her brothers from drug abuse.
Her father worked as a mechanic for a mining company, while her mother sold different goods to support her husband.
In the early 1980s, she relocated the family to Barangay San Vicente, Liloan, where her parents lived before they moved to Toledo for work.
“But the evil of drugs followed us, and I still found family members addicted to it. I felt like God is crying, looking down on what His children have been doing to their lives,” she said.
The mission to create a significant program that will impact the community was strengthened when President Rodrigo Duterte announced an all-out war against illegal drugs.
“In July 2016, I was watching the news on television and I saw the numbers … there were so many drug addicts who surrendered. There were many news items of drug users and pushers who were killed. There was a yearning in my heart to help. I felt that what was happening to our country was a cry for help,” she told Cebu Daily News during an interview at her home in Liloan town, three days before Christmas.
Barino is no professional in dealing with drug addicts; but she is active in the Love of God (LOG) Community, a charismatic group she co-founded with her husband, Rafaelito. She is also the Archdiocese of Cebu coordinator of charismatic communities. Her company, Duros Development Corporation, was responsible for the construction of the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) Pavilion in Barangay Mabolo, Cebu City.
The pavilion, a 2,600-square-meter facility, was the main venue of the IEC sessions in January 2016.
Over time, as the business prospered, she employed relatives and family members.
But drug dependency and substance abuse remained the societal problems which bothered her, as they bring about other crimes such as theft, rape and even road accidents.
Her initial plan was to conduct drug tests among all her employees.
During the first set of tests, almost 300 employees in their four project sites were simultaneously tested. Forty-six were found positive for drug use, many of them her close family members and relatives.
The result was an eye-opener for Barino which led her to initiate a program for drug dependents to realize the evil of drug abuse and how they can save themselves and their families from throwing away their lives.
Barino decided to contact her childhood friend, Rene Francisco, who runs It Works Chemical Dependency Treatment Center in Ozamis and Balay Kahayag Farm located in Baclayon, Bohol, to help develop a program.
They called it Surrender to God (SuGod), a community-based program ran by Kaalam Foundation Inc., LOG Community and It Works. The idea was to weave scientific and spiritual elements in a 10-day drug recovery and renewal program.
“I announced to my employees that they have to attend this program or they are going to be terminated. This is a chance accorded to them because most companies will terminate employees found to be drug addicts. I also told them that if they choose to go back to their bad ways after the program, they will be terminated,” she said. The first batch of “surrenderers” were welcomed in August at the LOG Center, a complete facility which includes a prayer room and conference room.
Of the 78 initial registrants, 65 graduated from the 10-day program. The graduates did not come from her company alone as there were participants from different barangays in Liloan.
Today, 250 people already graduated from the program after four runs.
The fifth batch will be welcomed on January 9 and the session will run until the 18th with participants coming from different cities and towns in Cebu.
SuGod is a stay-out program, but for participants who live far from Liloan, Barino said, they helped them find accommodations.
“We really want them to feel welcome on the very first day they come here. We hug them. We make them feel that this is a safe place for them,” Barino shared as she recalled the first time she embraced one man who could not believe that someone would actually consider him a human being worthy of an embrace.
Included in the program is a grooming day where participants are given free haircuts as a way to restore the dignity of individuals who want to quit the drug habit.
The program aims to make participants feel and look good so that they will have a chance to find honorable jobs after the program.
The SuGod program shook her core after hearing stories of abandoned children, couples committing adultery and concubinage, children used for theft and robbery and old people hurting each other all because of illegal drugs.
“Never in my life have I felt so disturbed. But I also felt very inspired because I saw their transformations. They are literally crying out for help. If you can only see their faces, you will cry. These are changes only God can do,” she said.
Since most participants have to stop working to attend the program, she said they are provided with rice and other goods at the end of each day’s session.
After the program, Barino said the graduates are encouraged to join Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and attend NA meetings in the evenings from Monday to Saturday at the LOG Center in Barangay Yati, Liloan, for them to have a support system.
Not all stories have happy endings. In fact, Barino said she terminated two employees, also family members, who went back to using drugs after being in the program.
“If we can just help 1,000 people by virtue of this program, I will be very happy. I would like the world to know that in a small place like ours, we have helped people, that we have helped produce happily recovered former substance abusers,” she said.
A 10-day program would cost the foundation and its partners at least P300,000 including professional fees, food provisions and other materials.
However, since the success of the first batch, donations have poured in from different sectors here and abroad.
“Many people are just so happy to finally see a program that is really making a difference in the lives of these people,” said Barino.
Kaalam Foundation Inc., which runs the LOG Center, has earmarked P5 million for the program.
Meanwhile, the Rafaelito and Fe Barino Foundation has announced the future establishment of SuGod Village, a five-hectare health and wellness retreat farm which will be run by SuGod graduates. Scholarships and trainings for SuGod graduates are also provided through a school accredited by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) so that they will have the opportunity to find jobs.
“What I am just so grateful about is that I am part of this experiential journey with them. I would love to see them live healthy and productive lives where dignity is restored so they can find jobs and take care of their families,” she said.
“We need to give them hope. To tell authorities that this person has changed … that killing the person is not the solution … that death does not end the problem,” Barino added.
(Next: Rene Francisco and why the 10-day drug recovery program works)
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