Of drugs and renewal

By: Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo December 30,2016 - 08:13 PM

I t was Christmas Eve.

I left the house telling my husband Jeff that I will come back before 10 p.m.

“I really just need to do these interviews. Dinner is prepared. Please feed the children,” I told him before I finally closed the main door.

My destination was the Love of God Community Charismatic Center in Barangay Yati, Liloan. It was only 10 minutes away from our home in Barangay San Vicente. It was part of a series called “A different kind of surrender” which I recently finished for Cebu Daily News.

I had a huge shopping bag with me and in it was a big pot of Filipino-style spaghetti and two loaves of white bread.

I was not really sure what to expect in that meeting with people I don’t know so… I brought food.

The people I was to meet that night were recommended to me by Fe Barino, who stands at the helm of the Duros Group of Companies, whom I interviewed three days before Christmas.

I asked her how she was inspired to start the Surrender to God (SuGod) drug recovery and renewal program with childhood friend and recovery coach/mentor Rene Francisco.

Our conversation led to the sharing of successful stories of former drug addicts turned productive members of the community. We ended the interview two hours after, and I was given a number to contact so I can be referred to former drug addicts who are willing to share their stories with me for my articles.

So there I was, after a 10-minute tricycle ride, standing in front of a charismatic center, quite anxious about how my Christmas Eve will turn out.
I asked two lads if the man I was looking for was in the building. They confirmed and told me to go to the second floor.

I met him there.

He was with other people. They were chatty, but I could feel a certain tension in the air. After all, I was an outsider who sort of invaded their safe place.

I interviewed the man. He asked me if I needed more people to interview. I replied: “Only if they feel comfortable.”

The others were already in a circle when I asked the man if I could join them.

“Too bold a request, girl,” I told myself.

But the man agreed and soon enough I was there, among them, with them, listening to stories, nodding in agreement, sympathetic at some point, teary-eyed one moment.

These are men and women who could be our neighbors, friends, family members, loved ones who have fallen victims to illegal drugs. They admitted that their lives were out of control when they resulted to drug use, when they let drugs overpower them. But right in front of me that night were people who were willing and committed to change for the better.

I have always hated addicts.

I was a victim to one, an uncle who struck me in the head with wooden staff when I was 16. He was angry when I pointed out that he stole money from my mother. I suffered from acute subdural hematoma.

But that night, on Christmas Eve, I learned to look at addicts from a different perspective.

They are sick people who need to be healed. But the healing is not only brought about by medicine or science. Self-discipline and commitment to change for the better are strong ingredients of a sober life — and I saw these in the eyes of several people who were there that night.

I gained tremendous respect for them for their strong resolve to change. It was my first experience in the Philippines where I just stayed quiet for more than an hour and just listened to what the people in that physical circle have to say.

The session ended in what I can describe as a huddle. I was arm in arm with people I don’t know. I was hugged by two people. Except for the man I just interviewed, I don’t think the others even know why I was there.

In the decade that I have worked as a journalist, I have repeatedly asked myself why I still write when it feels like nothing good is happening from the stories I wrote. That night, I understood why I still do what I do.
These are stories of hope worthy to be shared in an era where this country is being enveloped in violence and mistrust.

I don’t really know what a four-part series can do to effect long-term change — and I mean real, sincere, genuine change where death is not considered as the lone endgame for drug addicts.

But I want to teach my children the value of second chances and that even in a world where evil seemed to be more pronounced than good, there is still hope for goodness to reign as long as there are people who continue to sow the seeds of good deeds.

I pray and hope for this country and for 2017 to be a year of enlightenment and renewal.

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TAGS: children, close, community, dinner, drugs, Duros Group of Companies, Lilo-an, Love of God Community Charismatic Center, main door, rehabilitation, renewal, San Vicente, Sugod, surrender, Surrender to God, Yati

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