In the year 2001, the first Sikkim Human Development Report expressed concern over the prevalence of alcohol abuse in the state. Subsequently, in 2010 a statewide health campaign by the Government of Sikkim reaffirmed the concerns. In the wake of increasing incidence of substance abuse (Alcohol, Drugs, Cigarette, and Tobacco) in the youth; the Government of Sikkim under the leadership of the Chief Minister launched the Chief Minister’s Youth Empowerment and Self Reliant Mission on 26th May 2013 keeping in view the “future human security in Sikkim”. One of the key initiatives under the Mission was the Sikkim Against Addiction Towards Healthy India’ (SAATHI) programme.
The aim of the programme is to limit substance abuse and generate awareness about it amongst students, parents, school administration and community at large. As a part of the SAATHI programme, the Chief Minister formed a Steering Committee on 2nd May 2013. The committee comprised of Secretary-level officials from Department of Social Justice, Empowerment & Welfare, Department of Health Care, Human Services & Family Welfare and Human Resource Development Department, experts and counselors working with substance abuse victims and representatives of non-government organizations. The committee was responsible for coordinating the efforts of all stakeholders under the programme. Honorable Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) from Sikkim, Mr. P.D. Rai, was appointed as the Chairman of the Steering Committee. The program was initially piloted in two schools located in the state capital and was a huge success. The SAATHI program is a good example where a Social Enterprise is successfully collaborating with the government apparatus.
The Swaniti team was closely associated with SAATHI right from the beginning. After successfully running the pilot for two years, Swaniti conducted process evaluation study and found significant reduction in substance abuse by the students in both the pilot schools. Based upon the evaluation of the study, Swaniti team prepared the project proposal to scale the programme across 100 schools in Sikkim with in a span of three years (2016-2019). On Swaniti’s recommendation SAATHI was registered as an NGO and SAATHI Programme Manager from Swaniti, led the program for the initial three months. During the course of three months the SAATHI Manager set up the Standard Operating Procedures & working model of the NGO, trained the assistant managers, initiated the program in 27 schools and conducted orientation programme for the teachers and students. The manager constantly worked with the Honorable MP, Lok Sabha, SAATHI Board Members, SAATHI President, Principals of the selected 30 Government Schools, Teachers and students. The team also visited Rehabilitation Centers, Government Hospitals, Doctors, Physiatrist and met with many local representatives to build partnerships.
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SAATHI worked on the PEER Educator Model and during the orientation program the students were motivated to volunteer as peer educators. Similarly the teachers were requested to volunteer as Teacher Coordinators. SAATHI organized a three-days outdoor training for the peer educators for capacity building. Experts from different fields were invited to conduct the training on topics including soft skills, personality development, leadership and HIV & substance use. SAATHI also conducted the workshop of the school principals under the chairmanship of Director, School Education, to impress upon them that SAATHI is working with the government for spreading awareness about substance abuse amongst school going students.
In order to spread awareness about the substance use amongst the community, the SAATHI team conducted its first Community Outreach Programme on 26th June 2016 to mark the “United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking”. The team worked closely with the District Administration for preparing the programme. The speaker of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly (SLA) Mr. K.N. Rai and Sikkim Lok Sabha MP, Mr. P.D. Rai graced the inauguration. The chairman of the Namchi Municipal Council and other ward members lead the rally in the morning. It was attended by schoolchildren ,teachers, and members from rehabilitation centers, district administration staff, Nehru Yuva Kendra volunteers etc. The programme was a huge success with the government’s resolve in fighting substance abuse, clearly visible to all.
SAATHI also conducted the “Parental Counseling Programme” in one of the pilot schools where the programme was running since 2013. The agenda of the programme was to spread awareness about substance abuse amongst parents. The programme was a half day workshop for the parents of students from class sixth to eighth during which the SAATHI team worked closely with the school management committee (SMC) members, principal, teachers and the students. The parents were seated according to the area of their residence and then were asked to list down the top problems they faced with their wards after a group discussion and list them on the chart paper with possible solutions. One member from every group was requested to share the findings with the audience. Out of 10 groups, only 2 groups accepted that cigarette smoking is a problem amongst their wards. After the presentation the SAATHI president and school principal addressed the parents and motivated them to accept this problem and fight against it.
SAATHI now has a website designed and developed by the Swaniti Technology team. SAATHI in in the process of conducting a survey across the 100 schools in Sikkim in partnership with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The survey will be conducted to understand the levels of substance use in the state by measuring the awareness, perception and usage amongst the school students. SAATHI is acting as a platform where it is bringing various stakeholders from the department of health, education and social justice together for bettering the lives of the students. At the end of three years SAATHI’s goal is to embed drug control in the school curriculum at the state level. In the longer run this simple initiative will be able to bring a difference in the lives of the students, their parents and the community at large.

Written by Maansi Kaushik, who is an associate with Swaniti and worked as a program manager for SAATHI.