Jasper Mutiga strums a mellow tune on his guitar as two elderly men clap haphazardly to the music that has been their solace for the 10 months they have been at the Everest Rehabilitation Centre, at Kithaku, Meru County.
Behind them, drawing pads and papers are scattered on a table, full of drawings and doodles that chronicle the painstaking journey of addiction treatment.
People with substance abuse disorders seek help here, where for at least three months, they are given various therapies, including music, art, counselling and medication, to help them out of their addictions. Some, like the two elderly men, stay as long as it takes to recover.
Mr Mutiga, a former teacher, who started off helping teenagers who had been expelled from school due to drug addiction, uses his talents to rehabilitate addicts. He is a musician, sculptor, cartoonist, painter, teacher, preacher and counsellor. He quit his teaching job in 2013 to focus on rehabilitating people with substance abuse disorders.
“There are misperceptions that alcoholism, drug addiction and other forms of addiction are self-inflicted, but this is not accurate. Addiction is a disease that can be treated through medication and psychotherapy, but many of the affected die due to lack of understanding,” he explains.
Mr Mutiga’s mission began in 2013, when he worked as a head teacher. While preaching at a secondary school in Nairobi, he asked students who were hooked to drugs to come forward for prayers. His clarion call was inspired by the many students he had seen expelled for using drugs.
“The number of teenagers who came forward was shocking. I promised to help them. That is why I resigned to start a rehabilitation centre for secondary school students,” he recalls.
He set up the school in Kitengela, on the outskirts of Nairobi, and admitted students who had been expelled for drug use, so they could undergo treatment while continuing their education.
However, he was overwhelmed by the task and the special school was closed, but not without some success for his efforts. In 2014, 28 rehabilitated students sat KCSE, then 31 in 2015 and 26 in 2016, just before the school closed.
“It was difficult to keep a close eye on addicted teenagers, but most of them recovered and were able to pursue higher education. I still receive calls from some of them to date, and I feel very fulfilled,” he says.
After the closure of his school, Mr Mutiga decided to set up a rehabilitation centre in Meru, to cater for the high number of addicted professionals who sought treatment in Nairobi.
According to the Teachers Service Commission, 99 per cent of teacher indiscipline cases are linked to alcohol addiction.
The family of one of the students he had successfully rehabilitated offered him premises to start an addiction treatment centre last year, and Mr Mutiga opened its doors to professionals and university dropouts with addictions. The centre has treated patients who were pursuing law, medicine, education and other professions, who quit university due to drugs, including hard drugs like cocaine.
Mr Mutiga takes his message of prevention and rehabilitation to the neighbouring towns of Maua, Mitunguu and Nkubu, where alcohol and bhang addiction is prevalent. He uses music, art, spiritual counselling and medication to execute the complex task of treating addiction.
“Some patients come here and are unable to talk due to their condition. They express themselves through drawing, while music is a healer of the soul. Music restores the human spirit and gives strength to overcome addiction,” says the musician who is set to release two advocacy songs. He adds that the biggest challenge is a shortage of addiction counsellors and the reluctance of addicts to seek treatment.