You know as well as we do, that in this increasingly challenging world, it takes a lot of effort to educate and empower children who belong to the marginalized, unrecognized and ignored segments. Our guest’s work has succeeded in creating socially responsive, self-reliant communities that work together to create safe environments for children as well as sustainable change through collective participation.
They catalyze social change by innovating and piloting model solutions that Governments and implementing agencies can replicate using our technical knowledge, in-depth understanding of the challenges and unique insights gleaned from fifteen years of dedicated work.
In Kerala, through Project VENDA, they have educated and empowered over 120,000 children to say a form “NO” to drugs and help them make responsible choices using a range of well-planned initiatives, which have been recognized by the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC) as the best practice for evidence-based intervention. By 2024, they will positively impact the lives of half a million students in Kerala.
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The vision, a world where all people that free of the burden of drug abuse, this is the drug free America foundation's pathway to prevention podcast, where we are committed to developing strategies that prevent drug use and promote sustained recovery. Thank you for not only tuning in or you continue to support and efforts to help make this world a better place. We hope you enjoy this episode. You know, as well as we do that in this increasingly challenging world, it takes a lot of effort to educate and empower children who belong to the marginalized unrecognized and ignored segments. My guest's work has succeeded in creating socially responsive, self-reliant communities that work together to create safe environments for children, as well as sustainable change through collective participation, they catalyze social change by innovating and piloting model solutions that governments and implementing agencies can replicate using technical knowledge, in-depth understanding of the challenges and unique insights gleaned from 15 years of dedicated work. In Kerala through project venda, they have educated and empowered over 120,000 children to say a form of no to drugs and help them make responsible choices. Using a range of well-planned initiatives, which have been recognized by the United nations office of drug and crime as the best practices for evidence-based intervention. By 2024, they will positively impact the lives of half a million students. Without further ado. I am honored to welcome Diana Joseph managing trustee of the Fourth Wave Foundation to the podcast. Diana welcome.Diana:
So I am speaking to you from a worldly, smallest states down. So the country of India, it's called Kerala and I sit in a very beautiful setting of the sea, the countryside greenery, and it's called God's own country. And it's the tail tip of the large country of India. I work for the organization called Fourth Wave foundation. Foundation was started by me 15 years ago. And the objective of the organization was to work with child rights issues and safety, security, and inclusion of children in the mainstream and education spaces. And I, qualified as a researcher. That's the background that I hold for development work. I find that social scientists in the movement, social development, and my key area of work is around community problem solving. And two of my projects are today's. They stage on projects, big, ambitious to uninstall the models, try tests, and then handed over to the government. So the project that you're talking about today, project venda situated in the state of Kerala, and we work in the area of narcotics and drugs for children taking to increased, um, um, choices of getting into the use of narcotics and.Dave:
I wish I could see the beautiful countryside. Uh, well, would you mind sort of sharing what led you to working in your current role?Diana:
Yes, so, like I mentioned earlier, um, my work is around child rights issues and motor the, with the safety of children and their access to education and mainstream, lifestyles. If you know India, then, you know, India said country of mixed, um, you know, settings in terms of what we see as a portrait india. And a lot of our populations are living in very limited resource settings. And in these settings, our children who actually struggle to have. A decent lifestyle, affair, childhood access to education, children with disabilities and the vulnerabilities, our children coming from higher scariest certainly do not have those access. And we were looking at this little state where called the state of Kerala. Fairly high um, Various factors, terms of literacy and, uh, employment, but is also facing the issue of increased substance abuse addiction. And with youngsters, teens, young adults, and yeah. Working populations, we then there has been a monitorize in the last decade and, um, the thing. I got to exclude drugs, opiods into spaces where children go to schools and young adults are working because there's high vulnerability. So what we do is to their help,, uh, you kind of develop our own approaches that are very community specific in of intervention because, um, being a very diverse country, In terms of the way the population is dispersed style, language, culture, tradition, the food and all that. So one what we do is we will convince the communities to help them take ownership of the problem. We teach our parents, teachers, school authorities, and young adults themselves. We are able to broach this and able to prevent truly matters. ItDave:
sounds like your team there. Fourth wave foundation is filled with passionate, caring individuals. And I love how, how you just kind of hinted at the, the programs. The, the interventions are all community specific because of the diverse country, the diverse community. That's something that we like to talk about a lot that the answers are within the community. The good does exist. I'd love to dive in and learn more about project venda as one of your, your programs, your success stories would, would love to hear more about it. So what is project venda?Diana:
Literally translates, say no in the local language. That's Malayalam . So the states speaks very special languages. My local language venda means, say no. And clearly addresses age groups between age 12 and 22 young adults, teens and young adults, because there is an increasing issue of kids taking to. No choices of alcohol, tobacco, narcotics, and drug serious drugs. So, um, this project not only has a face that enables the population to be able to stand up and take control of issue, but it has a. But I was in teaching them to be able to say, no, they know they're doing drugs and alcohol and tobacco is not right for the age. They know it and will take to it. But what they really lack is the ability to say no, or to be able to save venda in the face of addiction or whenever this is expressed in their face in terms of try to use it. So the project. clearly addresses prevention, prevention as the largest approach to keeping kids safe. And when we say, when you say a safe, you're saying substance abuse free environment, SAFE. So looking at treatment and recovery, because a good subset of children that we work with also land in treatment and recovery programs, because the problem is so high. Then we look at long-term counseling and care. So there are a lot of children and young adults who need long-term care in terms of supporting them to stay away, keep away from circles that are influencing them to be yours. And then how we do it is also very interesting because it's just not enough to teach them to say no, but we also needed to understand. Uh, say yes to a lot of things that keep them away from environments later. So we have a very thriving, alternative pursuits program. In-depth adaption of the Icelandic model um, emphasis on sports is what we, we have as an alternative pursuits program way. That is our state of music and all the other activities that keep youngsters engaged sports has actually purely come out as this big game changer for enabling prevention. We have. Uh, serious football cup, the venda cup that is conducted across these vulnerable communities we've talking about children who get access Pretty heavily into case studies. Who've made it to international games. Who've gone through England and Wales.Dave:
I am fascinated by project venda or say no. And I'd love to hear a little bit more about how you're able to empower the children, the youth, the kids with sports. How did that come to be?Diana:
Luckily Kerala is a state that is crazy about football. So it's really surprising that the smaller state in India, compared to places that love football crazy about football. If you came down and went into the villages to see huge back outs of Messi and Ronaldo and all of them there during the season, because we are one of those states, that's massively campaigning around football and football for kids. So it is interesting that we come from a state like this. And the last few decades, what has happened is that, um, to play serious football and we've lost that out because our youngsters are no more, you know, focused on games and sports. So we moved into this curriculum, academic performance and schools that actually shut, um, Afterschool hours and schools don't work or sports anymore. So there has been a shift the past few decades into curriculum and academics and the pressure around it. While sports is something that we as a state had great emphasis on. So we've had the project actually been able to revive commitment to sports schools, focusing on sports. And that's what somebody lost down in the last decades. So right now we will see a buzz so we actually go into these communities and we're able to actually organize them into small groups. Give them full fledge training. Uh, affiliations and youngsters to be able to press your serious. And with that comes through surprise of stats going out of training, games stat, coming out. And these selection groups that they're not resources and opportunity, not enough time and availability of space without the intercostal belt. So, and that's why there is an increased access to medical optics. In regards, our maritime routes are being used to transit drugs and entire coastal belt, the youth of the coastal belts kind of prone to actually trading and taking away. The drugs and the gender is also a serious issue there's no gender gap. When it comes to taking the entire industry is done on the shoulders of children, because due to Humanitate ingredients, even as children are taking drugs or they found peddling drugs, And the enforcement and the cops and the police kind of give, send them off with a warning. It is no process where they actually go through counseling care and cleaning them out of this problem. They just send notes to kind of on the shoulders of these children.. Their access to a quick money or access to products, gadgets, designer foods, all of that kind of keep them in the trade, out of sports. We've been living in up, which kind of feeds back into the program. When children look up these youngsters who were first into a lifestyle that was handling drugs and be responsible about their choices and advocatingDave:
a community that loves football, but the youth were, we're not able to play, to enjoy it due to the trade. And football or afterschool activities being removed from academics. What barriers or challenges did you experience when you started project venda?Diana:
Um, one of the biggest barriers that we faced still faced right now is denial. Starting from the community, the parents, the school, and there's a serious denial. Um, more so because of the stigma, stigma is a big issue here. Um, and from all quarters, I think denial of public policy, public health. The school's biggest challenge,Dave:
even with those challenges. Looking at the fourth wave foundation, you have already educated and empowered over a 120,000 children. What, what are some of the other impacts that you have seen from project vendaDiana:
project venda has managed to really create kind of a social, um, resonance when it comes to. the issue of Narcotics and drugs and keeping children safe. Um, initially there was not one voice that unified the community to come together to take action. Why all of them then knew in different quarters that they were facing the problem, um, there was a fear of stigma. There's a fear. battling the unknown, like the mafia. They didn't know how to actually organize themselves into groups that could actually face this issue and knew to bring the faces of children out and show that they were stories that the really lives at risk. So what kind of venda became the banner under which this was possible. And we seriously worked who had, um, Um, approaching this as a ready prevention led program, uh, which meant that we could actually create it, create safe spaces within our communities, which would, it could come and play and be safe and they could go to schools and the parent's not worried about it. So it's kind of making this whole prevention program that said to communities to be able to organize themselves. To understand and take charge of the. We've also kind of work in bringing a unified voice when it comes to protecting. And being able to work with schools, go to management, that government public spaces to open up places where room to be able to come out and play and engage in socially interact and still feel safe and not checked in by groups that are actually targeting youngsters and children. So a venda has actually, um, also been able to influence public policy and. Get the government to take ownership. So in 2019 with the help of world federation against drugs and the UNODC office in Vienna, we were able to bring together some 33 countries in the Asia Pacific region into the small village in Kerala, to be able to discuss about the future of children in the world of drugs and narcotics. And we put out a white paper that helps the current government here to be able to take this on as a project plan and slowly come out with public policies that can kind of create the big a team of giving children safe and dealing with enforcement as a, as a government sector to address this issue. So venda has been able why in these large dimensions have been able to bring consensus on taking charge of the issue also. Looking at a very grassroots level it's impacting lives. So like I mentioned about stories of youngsters who have gone to treatment and recovery, who've actually been into long-term counseling and care right now, working with us. They come on board as a team that are lots of people we've recruited from the communities that we work in .Now,. Um, full-time work with us and the area of prevention. These are the few types of stories on, I could go on all day about it, but these are few stories.Dave:
Oh, wonderful, wonderful. Yes. You are making a difference in those communities and those children's lives. What is next or in the future for project venda?Diana:
That's a plan that actually has developed this approach. That's been able to not only pull together the evidence that many of the issues that undermine or enhance health outcomes have structural and social or behavioral factors. So what we want to really focus on is to address that, um, Engagements or prevention programs that we designed for has to be very community specific and very grassroots in terms of designing them. We are looking at environments where we live, work and play to adapt to these needs of the local community. We're looking at how education and employment, income and access to healthcare services can be distributed well enough so that, uh, the issues that arise or the problems that we've been facing right now can be taken care of like simple, like a stage like mine doesn't have. The childcare center right now, children are sent into adult care homes. We don't have not got to extend, uh, drugs or opioid specific treatment. There's no child treatment protocols here. The children are being sent into the addiction homes. Uh, so all of these are serious social health issues that we want to address. And we're hoping that we will have know centers that can actually take care of children. And also have gender specific approaches when it comes to treatment and care, but also looking and addressing a whole social nominalization that's been happening in terms of drug use in narcotics, the serious effort by project venda to be working with the media, the movie, the cinemas, the advertising on of their tool, any conveniency, productive place. You know, taking to these kinds of behaviors, being a normal social engagement to show. So we work in various areas and we seriously uh, looking at, uh, reinforcing that, you know, there is a serious role for us as a generation now to kind of influence the way our kids make choices and making healthy choices is important. So a product venda really moving into that space to protect public health. And there's a growing appreciation that these policies have to be contributed to the social change right now. So we're hoping to aggregate that and kind of influence behavior, not only socially, but also politically.Dave:
You and your team are busy. Doing wonderful, wonderful work. We, we had talked earlier, you'd shared about football and, uh, the Venda cup. Um, can we talk a little bit more about the, the empowering messaging, the teaching, the children, how to say no. What does that look like?Diana:
So what we do is work with government schools, government schools are, uh, the mid or low income groups, um, categories where children actually access public schooling systems and. Kind of addresses populations who are vulnerable are coming from high risk areas. So we are a community in terms of the state, um, and the schools that we work with distributed along the coastline. And what we do is go into the classrooms into the schools, a sixth grade upwards, or we are addressing small focus groups. So 30-40 children. We can interact with her more than an hour or two, and we practically enable them, or we run peer group programs that teach them to say no. As simple as, as a cultural context of the little state that we come from, that there is exposure to, um, alcohol, tobacco early on in life in their families. That means parents use it. Fathers often into the problem of eviction because of alcoholics. So there is a tendency in the household where the child is being exposed to early use of substances. And that kind of escalates because, uh, um, they in as early as six years old are serving the drink, or buying the drink. Kind of normalize that. And it's an initiation thing as well. By 12-13, take to drugs. Take to alcohol. So graduating from gate gateway substances into a high alcohol kind of is so easy for youngsters. Because of the access to the drug. there's also an affordability factor. So what we do is in focus groups, teach them to be able to say no, and even we have to be a little candid. Uh, we de-center say refuse, um, or, you know, say no to the own parents. If they're asked to bring in. Uh, no, the alcohol, no. So the serve a drink or pour a drink called you get the ice. So stuff like that is where we actually start, which is a harsh reality, but this is the truth of the place that we come from. Starting from that. We also then move into graduating, doing know how to be able to face the peer pressure. Uh, trying the stuff substances. Then there is another side of the whole story where they are actually targeted by groups for trading, muling and ferrying these drugs. So how have you broach that when it comes to a certain age? And then finally being able to actually bring them out of these issues when they are deep into it. So these are all different methodologies that we follow. These are very, very strategic interventions that we've designed, very community specific. And also this is being implemented by the community itself. So it's not just a set of, uh, social development workers who are going in, but we are picking up. Start from the community, people who are very socially sensitive and active to stand up and be able to address that in their communities. We also have a very fine crew of professionals, doctors, psychiatrists, mental health workers, people who are in this space who really know how to do it scientifically in terms of bringing children out of addiction problems. So it's a whole gamut of services that we offer. Uh, in, in ways that we are able to engage different community members and football, kind of in a sport aspiration to excel in sport, kind of becomes the level playing field. Where kids, bought together despite their believes their social status, how deep they are into the problem. All of that kind of is leveled out when they come to play. So they've designed very clear curriculums that teach, uh, youngsters to make right choices. Look at value systems, uh, look at, uh, being able to, uh, make ethical decisions. And one of those key awards that we give in our football games is the fair play. That is so important to project venda that we have a whole set of gears and, um, benefit manual that kind of is given out for children who understand family and who practice it and were able to. Learn how to it. So we have a whole module around ethical decision making responsible choices and all of that designed with fair play awards. So even with the story of the two youngsters went to Cardiff to play, they were representing the country, um, community where you've been working for three, four years. And the only thing we told them was that they go and play fair and come back. Kids um, you know, just. You can get into a non-committed quake, came to a fight, just, um, just for nothing. It's a lot of work to be able to orient them. And, uh, it's not only, not only that they played for the country, they came back with a dragon cup, but all the 60 countries that played, uh, these two boys from this little village came back with the fair play awards, given out at the slum soccer in England, in Cardiff and Whales. So, um, that's how much we actually emphasize on value choices to make. So it's, it's like everybody knows everybody who works in the prevention recovery space now is that working with children is very diverse in this. There's a lot of sensitivity when we, uh, when it comes to actually orienting them into lifestyle choices. So project venda, the venda cup. Um, you should really go to the website to see how it works and on the Instagram and the Facebook project venda, if you type out v e n d a project, VENDA, you'll see this whole area of photographs of youngsters, having fun girls in groups of, I know one thing we've also managed to do that I want to highlight is, um, uh, get, girls to play football. That was not something that was seen at all. And we started with two girls groups that we really had to, you know, um, work hard to put together. And today as of the last, last year, we had around 32 girls teams playing for the venda cup. Yeah, all of these achievements, and these are very beautiful ways in which actually designed those community engagement programs for children and the community.Dave:
And listeners, I will put links to the website, the Instagram and Facebook. So you can see the, the remarkable work, the pictures of the venda cup and everything to go along with it. But Diana, you had said something that was, was very important. I wanted to just come back to it for, for our audience. you said that working with the schools, the education, and coming into the communities. Isn't the services aren't delivered by folks from outside of the community, the community itself implements the programs. How, how did you get to that point for that community to take ownership of project venda?Diana:
Um, like I mentioned, There was this all there is. We still struggle with the fact that, uh, people are not open about, about discussing the issue, uh, the children taking into narcotics and drugs primarily because of stigma. So, uh, if we were to talk prevalence of the problem, the way we would kind of categorize that if you spoke to a group of five or 10 people, And you ask them if they've been aware of the problem, all the 10 of them will say yes. And then if you ask them, if they knew anybody in their own families who had succumb or is struggling or is trying to manage it, and then at least half of them will put up their hands up. That's fine. And then. Asked if, there was somebody in the immediate family or in your homes that is actually going through this issue. Then technically again, half the crowd would put up your hands. That's how intense the problem is on how prevailing the problem is. But then. They didn't have, um, enough reason to be able to organize themselves into groups to say, okay, our children are in trouble or our homes are affected directly by it. So Dave, I think project venda went back one trigger. And for me to have taken up this issue is, was also because of the research that was commissioned and the government had not put. Any action plan for teens and young adults while they had massive plans for adult addiction programs, there was nothing addressing young teens and children. And when we went out into the communities, we were kind of got the pulse that they were all looking up for somebody or from an. outside, be able to unify them. And I think we just had to go in and say, yes, these are tried and tested methods. And these are the things that we've seen work. Um, kind of the self organized to the groups, especially the schools kind of look it up very seriously because this was something they really know how to address and they didn't know what to do in terms of taking control of the problems. Uh, school, uh, we, we had to initially make presentations, public information campaigns. We kind of included former drug users to be able to share first hand accounts, kind of relive their experiences and, you know, kind of talk about the resiliency and stuff and to really bring, brought them back. Into real life from the journey that I know, the difficulty of that journey, all of those stories actually kind of put things in perspective. And I think we were just instrumental in, uh, harnessing community power to be able to work and bring some results and effort into this issue,Dave:
information awareness, and yeah. Sounds like. Building relationships with the community members, getting to know them and letting them get to know you and your vision, your mission, your programs and services. But I want to build on that, that strategic approach to empowering the community. What insights or lessons learned, have you gleaned from project venda?Diana:
We just know One of the serious intervention lessons that we've learned is that there is resistance to change, but there's also a greater need for change. And when people are oriented, guided, or shown the need for change, there is a great response. And even among the stakeholder groups that we clearly address that is the teens and the young adults. There's a fair bunch. That is a 70, 75% who are vulnerable, who are not. But are sensitive for many reasons, the other vulnerable populations who can any day fall into it and making them realize that they are important. They have a relevance, their choices matter and a commute and not, not only mattered to them, but it also matters to the community, kind of gets this whole awakening happening and. Because the problem is so large, Dave in the state that I'm coming from, we are looking at a serious epidemic unfold in terms of taking to opioids, um, and tranquilizers after, um, a drug, uh, off the counter drugs, that's going to happen. India is going to be the pharmacy hub of the world. And with that comes those alleged precursors that we have you're co-producing meds and that's seeping into our market. So we are looking at various aspects of. These, um, addiction problems, that's going to unfold in India. And I think we are, we've become that one voice that has been raising these red flags, getting the community and the government to start doing something about public health and policy levels. So the other large aspect is the crime rate. There's organized crime, uh, both domestically and abroad kind of targeting these populations kind of also influencing this public consciousness. So we're looking at being able to address that. Um, and, uh, these learnings are what. It kind of is guiding our journey and being able to effectively work with these groups. Yeah.Dave:
Some beautiful lessons and insights there. Thank you for, for sharing those. What advice would you give to our listeners as they may see some, some issues within their own communities? And want to take action, or they're a part of a group that is working in the community. What, what advice would you offer them?Diana:
So as a community we have a serious responsibility when it comes to actually making choices. I think as adults, we have to be held responsible for the choices that children make. I think we directly, um, no, we need to take ownership at me, uh, creating an environment, not, not able to make those heavy, valuable life choices because. Um, normalizing a whole lot of behavior that is directly going to affect their lifestyle, their health, my mental and mental health and wellness in the long run. So as a community, I think we seriously need to sit back and take ownership of the fact that we are creating a community, that our children are not going to be able to. Um, easy, uh, healthy choices and what we really need to do. Uh, people. Creating that world for them is to be able to apply standards to drug demand reduction, which we, spoken out at the UN and various platforms by various groups. But how does it actually translates to a normal household? How do normal parents lay people understand. Practically use those standards to explain it to their children or teach us to be our students. We need to be able to create those communication tools. Really able to show the community that they're there to make choices and make choices that really affect the longterm health and wellness. So what we really need to do, I think, is create standards for them to demand reduction and kind of a focus towards minority substance using populations that other than the non drug using majority. So we need to. Create clear communication designs for that and help people stay away from it. So prevention, uh, the way I see it whole countries like mine, where the population is large, the resources scarce, um, public health doesn't really exist. We really need to promote the science of prevention and really teach youngsters to not only youngsters communities to be able to. Make those choices that really keep that keep their children safe.Dave:
You have shared so much wisdom today. I could, I could ask questions for hours, just learning more and more from you, but I know your time is precious. Before we wrap up this episode, I would love to learn just a little bit more about the fourth wave foundation. Can you kind of tell us more about what fourth wave foundation has to offer? And how could our listeners get involved or offer support?Diana:
Yes, the foundation primarily is focused on childhood issues. And one of the many issues that women face today is the, is the world of normalizing behavior that is around normalizing behavior, around substance abuse and drug addictions. Um, so fourth wave is in that space, where it's not very easy for us to engage with. People who understand that there is a long term investment in, in the cause now, because I think everybody who wants to support causes and looking at immediate results, crunching numbers, showing immediate change factors, but something like what we're talking day is it's a whole in a process change that we need to bring in. And we really don't find people who, who buy into the idea of strategy can longterm um, uh, engagements with communities. So, yes, if there are people out there who understand this and who really believe in keeping children safe, Safe would be in substance abuse, free environments. Then we need people with expertise. Who've done this who have had best practice stories in their work of people to engage with our communities, bring these sharings into the work that we do. Uh, on the website is a page where we have put aside for resources and dime. And if people can match that and if they can come down to this am ready to coming the world, whereas listening to this beautiful state of Kerala it's called the God's own country. But yes, we need a wonderful people to join hands, to be able to safeguard our communities.Dave:
I will put links to the fourth wave foundation in the show notes, listeners check out those show notes and, and visit the website. There's a lot of wonderful information there as well. Um, but before we close out, I would like to invite you to share any last call to action or words of wisdom for our listeners.Diana:
Yes. Thanks Dave. I just have them say thank you. So in the, have this conversation with you today and especially to speak to people who understand this issue. So yeah, my one, I closing statement I'm not one for advices, but I firmly believe that protecting and fostering. health of the upcoming generation from illicit drugs and harms, uh, is a very powerful and responsible space for us as a generation today. I think we need to see that and create safe environment for our children's. We need to do everything possible as you know, small voices as voices. I don't know how, but we need to be able to bring this large message of fostering health for the upcoming generation it's priority it's priority. If we need to survive as the human race.Dave:
Wisdom that, that beautiful, beautiful thought and call to action. Let's bring this episode to a close Diana. It has been an honor to speak with you today. Thank you so much for, for sharing the story, the insights and the lessons learned behind project venda. And thank you for doing the work that you are doing at the fourth wave foundation. It's been an honor.Diana:
Thank you so much. Thank you. It's really exciting to have this discussion with your on the viewers. I think the people who are listening in that concludes this episode, thanks for tuning in. Be sure to hit the subscribe button and share this episode with a friend before. And we look forward to seeing you on social media because prevention is better together. Together. We are stronger.