Border Towns' Best Ally In Drug Fight: Families
(Page 2 of 2)
With both surveys and anecdotal evidence showing younger children attracted to drugs and drug trafficking, Mexican authorities have decided to focus their preventive work on younger children.Skip to next paragraph
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Do sports, not drugs
One idea is to team after-school sports activities with drug-prevention programs. "We realized we needed more than just brochures in the schools," Beller says. "We needed activities for our target group that would keep them busy while exposing them to the dangers of drugs and building self-esteem. If you're involved in sports," he adds, "there's less chance you're taking drugs or getting into trouble."
With a new direction but only marginally greater resources, drug-prevention officials are looking to piggyback onto existing sports programs and to use existing sports facilities where possible. In other cases, new outdoor basketball courts are being built - with neighborhood participation - and lights are being installed at existing sites so winter programs can continue until parents are home from work.
In Ciudad Jurez, federal drug-prevention officials are using an established afternoon activity program to reach kids. But in Tijuana and Rosarito, the program is starting practically from scratch.
"It's taking quite a bit of work to establish the trust so people will participate," says Sal Sols Ocegueda, the federal attorney general's prevention coordinator in Tijuana. Having switched from crime investigation to prevention last May, he says much of his time in marginal neighborhoods has been spent "convincing people we're not the enemy, we're part of the answer."
The public's reluctance is understandable. Tijuana has been the scene over recent years of a drug war that has blackened law enforcement's already poor image. Investigations into a number of high-profile killings revealed federal and state police officers fighting on the side of drug-trafficking organizations.
Learning to trust the police
But the public is coming around, Mr. Sols insists. A "summer without drugs" program centered on soccer earned drug-prevention workers some entree with target children, he says. On the boards are plans for three new sports fields in Rosarito, and renovating others in Tijuana to be used with the antidrug sports program.
Sols's office is also introducing the antidrug mascot "Dino," whose name means "say no." By dialing DINO-66, Tijuanans can anonymously report drug activity in their neighborhood.
His office only received 66 calls from January to June. But after the DINO line was set up and the community prevention programs began, "We finished the year with 1,185 calls," says Sols. "The volume is a measure of the trust we're establishing."
With about 80 people crowded into the Morelos community center - and a handful of cautious adolescents peering in through windows - the Rosarito meeting is another sign of public concern over the drug issue.
Juana Aguilar Valdivia, the neighborhood committee president, says Morelos has "a lot" of drug addiction and drug selling, but the evening meeting is the first sign anyone wanted to do anything about it.
"This is new, and you can see people are responding," she says. "Let's hope it's not a one-night thing."