Lorna in counseling session with her clients in Quezon City. Photo credit: URC

Lorna Banaag Siute is a community facilitator in charge of five districts or barangays in Quezon City, where she and her colleagues counsel persons who use drugs (PWUDs). She has been doing this challenging work for four years – persevering because she finds fulfillment in touching the lives of her clients and their families.

As one of 457 community facilitators who have received training from the USAID RenewHealth Project, Lorna helps PWUDs and those in recovery and their families obtain access to information, care, self-help, and community-based rehabilitation and recovery (CBDR) support. The RenewHealth Project assists local government units in sites across the Philippines implement CBDR programs so that people who use drugs and their families can access services without fear or prejudice.

Part of Lorna’s training includes counseling and motivational interviewing skills which helps her gain the trust of her clients. Her counseling focuses on recovery and life skills, and family sessions which are particularly useful as many clients began using drugs due to family problems.

One client, she says, always cries whenever he talks to Lorna. He was left on his own when his mother began working overseas. He was bullied in school, missed classes, and never learned to read or write. After almost a year of counseling, the client recovered from his drug use. He attended adult learning classes and gained functional literacy skills and now works as a waiter.

Stories like this inspire Lorna to remain committed to her work. She sympathizes with her clients. “I am a single parent, she said. “My former partner used marijuana and we separated. My work has widened my understanding of PWUDs and their struggles.”

Because recovery from drug abuse is a long and difficult journey, relapses are normal. With the COVID-19 quarantine in place, all CBDR services have been suspended. Lorna worries that her clients may relapse because of the isolation and stress of the quarantine.

To help community facilitators adapt to the challenging circumstances related to the pandemic, USAID RenewHealth Chief of Party Regina Hechanova-Alampay and Deputy Chief of Party Dr. Ivanhoe C. Escartin conducted a webinar for community facilitators. Participants learned how to deliver mental health first aid to their clients including how to recognize the symptoms of stress, strategies for relapse prevention and self-care and self-help, and when to seek professional help.

The webinar was attended by 145 people. Senior officials from the Dangerous Drugs Board, the Department of the Interior, and local government gave the opening and closing remarks. They  acknowledged the important role that community facilitators play in helping with drug demand reduction.

Said Lorna: “The USAID RenewHealth webinar gave me insights on how I can continue to help my clients during this difficult quarantine period. I will definitely use what I learned to continue counseling my clients.”