By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa, Tonga – A significant march took place in Nuku’alofa on Saturday 13 March, with the declared theme of “Say No to Drugs.” School students as well as people from the community joined the march to urge youth especially to “Say No to Drugs”. Banners representing different villages were displayed, groups throughout Tongatapu came to support the march against drugs.
Leading the march was Afimeimo’unga Hola, former drug user, who has stepped out to declare that not only he was now opposed to illicit drugs, but he also revealed the kind of extremely dangerous and immoral culture associated with drug use.
He has become the first major crusader of any significance against drugs in Tonga.
He spoke of a mother who traded her 10-year-old child to a drug dealer so she can get the drugs for her use.
He also told the story of a married couple with the husband trading his wife to the drug dealers in exchange for drugs for his use. The wife would be returned after the drug dealer is done with her. Hola says that this was done on a regular basis.
He reveals that children as young as 13 were used not only to become addicted to drugs but to also become “sex slaves” to drug dealers.
It is alleged that dealers are trying to get youth as young as in their early teens to become addicted. This way, they would grow up to become ‘runner’ in the drug trade.
Dr. Mapa Puloka who heads up the Mental Health Ward in Vaiola Hospital, said in a radio interview that 20% of all people submitted for mental illness are those who are addicted to drugs.
He says that the Salvation Army does a good job with counseling and trying to assist with rehabilitation but “they are overwhelmed.” Dr. Mapa says they are understaffed and under equipped to meet the rising needs to treating drug addicts.
“There needs to be a rehabilitation centre built in Tonga to try and meet the needs,” Dr. Puloka said.
The problem with drugs, especially methamphetamine and cannabis have been on the rise in Tonga, so much so that Tonga has been named by some overseas reporters as the “Kingdom of Ice.” Despite regular arrests made by police and brought to Court, the flow of drugs into Tonga does not seem to decrease, even with Covid 19.
It is alleged that there are people in high places involved in the drug trade, but no one of significance has yet been caught and arrested.
Rev. Kelepi Misa and his wife Lusiola, are among pastors who are providing spiritual counseling to the rising movement of “Say No to Drugs.”
They are concerned that parents should be actively involved in the training their children on how to avoid drugs, by saying no to it!
“It is our responsibility as parents – fathers and mothers – to enlighten our children to the nature and danger of drugs, and the damage it does to the lives of people,” they said.
“We need to help the youth of Tonga to be informed about the danger of drugs.” The challenge is “don’t experiment with it, don’t test it, just Say No to Drugs!”
When Hola (also known as Panuve Hola) first appeared on social media with his story about drugs and the drug culture, there were shocked at the alleged level of abuse that exists in Tonga.
Questions were raised on whether he was foolishly putting his life at risk by revealing what he knows about the drug use in Tonga? If he knows who the drug dealers are, would they try and get rid of him for fear he might reveal who they are?
There were also those who question why he does not refrain from going public but try and work closely and confidentially with the Police. The thinking is, that at the end of the day, the police must be involved, and this problem must be brought to the Courts.
A source close to Hola says that he is not willing to put his life in jeopardy by being a police informer, because he claims there are those in the police force who are allegedly involved in the drug trade.
What Hola is hoping to achieve by his coming out is to create a safe space for children, as he urges the parents to be more mindful of the nature of drug use, for not only does it compromise moral principles, but also brings direct damage to their lives.
“What he is also hoping to do, is to enlist the support of the community for it is his belief that without community support, no real help and rehabilitation can be offered to drug addicts. Ex-drug users like himself would be protected, even if they reveal the key players in the drug trade,” the source says.
Hola also emphasized that the lasting key to freedom from addiction and involvement in drug dealing is spiritual transformation and healing from God.