Year Joined MKLM: 2021
Ministry: Addiction awareness & recovery support with Community Based Health Centers, Archdiocese of Mombasa
Ministry Area: Healthcare and Health Promotion
Goal of Ministry: To grow awareness of addiction as a disease, and increase support for alcoholics/addicts who want to get clean, sober, and achieve long-term sobriety
Alcoholism and drug addiction are serious problems in sub-Saharan Africa, though they are often overlooked. Alcohol consumption has been identified in research as the leading risk factor for death and disability in the region. Support for recovery is very limited, especially for those without resources to cover the cost of a stay in a rehabilitation center. Psychological support, likewise, is severely under-resourced in Kenya, with only 500 qualified mental health professionals to serve a population of 44 million. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) groups are few and far between here, though AA has been clinically evaluated as the most effective treatment for alcoholism. When I first arrived in Mombasa, I found only one face-to-face AA meeting and a handful of NA meetings in this city of over a million people, an international port that is rife with alcohol and drug use.
The staff of three Community Based Health Centres (CBHCs) serving different neighborhoods in Mombasa asked me to share my experience in recovery and help them to reach out to the many people they serve who struggle with addiction. We’ve worked together within the AA framework to get more AA meetings going. I now go to three to four meetings a week, sharing on recovery and engaging with folks who may have a few days clean or many years sober. I serve as a sponsor for a number of members, and my phone is often buzzing with texts from sponsees. As a main AA contact in Mombasa, I keep people informed of where and when meetings are held, and help make AA literature and other addiction recovery resources available. I interface with medical and university staff, educating them about addiction and recovery, so together we can offer AA support to our communities. I’ve also shared dialogues on addiction at the CBHCs in challenged communities, and hope to do many more at city health and education facilities.
I’m active in regional AA. In November 2022 we’ll host AA members from around East Africa and internationally in Mombasa to celebrate 50 years of AA in Kenya with the East Africa AA Convention.
I’m especially excited about the AA work because, being volunteer-run and self-funded, it does not require major financial investment, and once a strong AA community is nurtured, given that service and outreach to newcomers are foundational principles, AA can quickly become self-sustaining.
There is a look, a small hopeful glint, I see in the eyes of folks early in sobriety when they start to “get” the program, start to understand the disease that has put them through living hell. I’ve seen that look in the eyes of a Catholic priest, a 44 year-old African woman, many young Kenyan men, and many patients at the Port Reitz Mental Health and Substance Addiction Unit. The hope is that they could actually, finally get long-term sobriety. That there is a way up and out. The hard part of this work is that some don’t get that look. Or pretend they have what they don’t. Those are the ones that stop coming to the meetings. Sometimes if I call them to follow up, I’m answered by an ugly, distorted personality, their drunken other-selves. But here in Mombasa we have a solid group of folks in early recovery, learning the program and staying close, as one of our AA books says, “with all the fervor with which the drowning seize life preservers” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 22).
My newsletter, “Finding hope by admitting defeat,” is a good “day in the life” of my experience here. I love the diverse, vibrant, ocean-centric city of Mombasa! I’m busy, happy, grateful and profoundly blessed to be doing what I’m doing.
I’m a recovering alcoholic/addict with 30 years clean and sober through the grace of God and my 12-Step program. I’ve been grateful to be able to serve people in communities in need around the world. My first long-term experience as an international volunteer was as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania from 2015 to 2017. As my commitment to my Catholicism grew and I wanted to return to service overseas, I joined Franciscan Mission Service and served with them for a year and a half in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2020-21. I was attracted to the opportunities for longer-term service with Maryknoll Lay Missioners and saw the chance to serve in East Africa, in some ways, as a continuation of my experience in the deeply African influenced culture of Jamaica.
As my journey in sobriety has progressed and faith has grown, I’ve come to understand 12-Step recovery and the process of working the steps as integral to my spiritual life and vocation as a volunteer. AA was part of my service in Albania and my ministry in Kingston. One of AA’s promises says, “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.”
To be serving a community where there’s almost no understanding of addiction, where recovery support resources are scarce, and to to be able to share some of the hardest things in my past as gifts that can help others build a rich, fulfilling life, is a blessing.