Project Venda and the Fourth Wave Foundation

Fourth Wave Foundation is all about positive social change and individual improvement. They aim to conquer many social issues through prevention strategies. One of their most popular projects is Project VENDA, Say NO to Drugs. The information filled interview with Diana Joseph, Managing Trustee of FWF, will help us get to know more about the foundation’s wonderful projects and activities.

Give a brief info about the Fourth Wave Foundation?

The Fourth Wave Foundation is our response to a call for social change. The approach involves taking up social issues and turning them into innovation challenges while working with multi-stakeholders to take ownership and address the divides and inequalities that exist around us. Key areas of focus include Education, Empowerment, Health and Inclusion. Our Mission is to encourage all segments of society to reach self-reliance with a focus on the marginalized and unrecognized sections respecting their culture and needs. We work to ensure sustainable change through collective participation. In this context, the Fourth Wave Foundation currently runs 2 key projects. Project VENDA, based out of Kochi, which works dedicatedly to contain substance abuse and drug addiction among teens and young adults through primary prevention and demand reduction activities. The initiative also equips parents, teachers, doctors, heads of institutions and other stakeholders to create a safe, drug-free environment for generations to come. Nanagu Shaale in Karnataka built on the inclusive education model works primarily to enable inclusion of children with disabilities and special needs into mainstream education in government schools.

Diana Joseph

Tell us a little about Project Venda (Say NO to Drugs)?

Project VENDA® – Our core functions are: 1)To communicate and disseminate information for creating safe and healthy environments for teenagers. 2) To empower Teenagers to say “NO” to substance abuse. 3) To rehabilitate affected and addicted teenagers. Our work at Project VENDA has been featured in “Working Together – Drugs and Sustainable Development: A Guide for Civil Society” of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released in March 2019. Project VENDA empowers teenagers to say ‘NO’ to substance abuse and helps to rehabilitate addicted and affected teenagers. Project VENDA also aims at equipping various stakeholders with information, skill and knowledge to broach and discuss the topic of drugs with children and young adults. These Partnerships with parents and communities helps to integrate consistent and relevant messages into the home and society, thus improving student health of mind and body. Project VENDA encourages and advocates the engagement of healthy pursuits as an effective antidote to the menace.

S.A.F.E. Programs: Substance Abuse Free Environment Trainings and Programs working within Schools is an effective tool for prevention programs equipping the schools to address this menace and make our schools S.A.F.E.

S.A.F.E Forum: Brings various stakeholders together and create a 5-year road map to address the issues and problems. We work with corporations, civil society bodies, government departments, and educational institutions to enable create Substance Abuse Free Environments.

What made you think of this project? Was there a specific incident that led you to think of it?

A young group of vibrant youth lead by Shalini George a friend from Kannur came to FWF with a desire to work on this specific problem in Kerala. I laid out a clear objective about the age group that we would focus on as FWF works only with children. We decided to focus on teens and young adults. We understood that Prevention is the best way forward in the fight against substance abuse when it comes to schools and young adults. After a lot of research and study on the topic, we mapped the need and saw that it was more the repeated enquiries by schools and colleges, the helplessness of parents who did not know how to handle a young teenager with high risk behavior, and students themselves coming forward asking for support and help to keep away from increasing peer pressure etc served as primary reasons. FWF believes that ‘we the community are responsible, if our youth and children do not know how to make responsible and healthy choices’. We need to ensure that no family becomes a direct or indirect victim, that no one in any family becomes another nameless, faceless story.

Why did you choose Kochi as the epicenter of your work?

The high prevalence of the issue in the region and the fact that abuse is targeted towards young adults and children makes Kochi an epicenter of the problem. Project VENDA decided to work out of Ernakulam, by carefully choosing 6 regions we call red flagged areas where prevalence is high. Our approach is to build a successful community ownership model to demonstrate change and show impact. This can further become a model for the rest of the State. It is also a widely known fact that Kochi is the next Amritsar and in a coming few years if Kerala does not address this issue then we will be a repeat of Punjab.

There are many social workers and government agencies working towards the prevention of Drug Abuse. How is Project Venda different?

At present, government and non-governmental agencies across the state have been primarily working towards harm reduction through the establishment of rehabilitation centers and law enforcement. Harm reduction focuses primarily on the addicted and the affected. Project Venda works on the prevention dimension which is the best approach to stop this menace from affecting our loved ones, from entering into our homes or our backyards. We work to empower schools and communities to broach the problem surrounding teenagers and young adults who are at a higher risk of substance abuse. Project VENDA addresses this gap of the need to keep youngsters away from risk and works closely with teenagers and young adults. Project VENDA builds in a prevention strategy to help the communities create Substance Abuse Free Environment for the current and coming generation. The objective is that in the long term, there will be a generation which collectively says ‘No’ to drugs.

What are the different programs you have for Project Venda?

  • Prevention Programs: S.A.F.E. School

Implemented primarily in schools and colleges, S.A.F.E. is designed with the sole purpose of helping teenagers and young adults recognize their individual uniqueness and develop self- esteem. This culture of learning and empowerment helps them steer clear of substance abuse and make responsible choices.

  • Recovery and rehab: Alternative Pursuits and Mainstreaming:

Project VENDA Channelizes the talents of children and young adults positively to help them discover their true potential through conducting creative workshops, sports camps, life skill and soft skill training sessions to help them get back to mainstream society and keep them away from falling into the clutches of drugs again.

  • Influencing policy changes at International and National levels:

Project VENDA organizes national and international multi-stakeholder forums in partnership with governments and international agencies for advocacy and networking. S.A.F.E. Forum is organized annually creating roadmaps for Substance Abuse Free Environment.

Have you associated yourself with any government or nongovernment organization for the project?

Project VENDA is a member of the World Federation Against Drugs, and has partnered with international bodies including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, Drug Policy Futures, Seniors Expert Service (Germany) and Globethics Consortium etc. Project VENDA also works in tandem on the state Government’s mandate to ensure safe communities, by associating with welfare agencies like Nehru Yuva Kendra (Central Government Program); Department of Social Justice and Empowerment (committed to the implementation of demand reduction strategy in the country); Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB): Circle Inspector of the Excise Enforcement and Anti-Narcotic Special Squad; Department of Women and Children.

What are the future projects or plans of FWF?

Project Venda has been successfully running four programs for teachers, schools, parents and communities for years. Project Venda feels that this is the perfect time to work together to empower the relevant stakeholders with the required knowledge and more importantly, the tools to tackle the drug menace through targeted school-centric interventions. Coming in the wake of the Government campaign, this will add tremendous value and offer on-the-ground support for the people, empowering them to tackle and solve this problem.We intend to build on the strength and capacity of the communities we work with. We plan to transfer knowledge and skills to many more agencies looking forward to working in this area. The need for multistakeholderism to address the problem from a demand control perspective is the one big solution to handling this issue; therefore, we intend to work together with all sections of community to enable take ownership in creating S.A.F.E environments.

Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?

The average age of the team at VENDA is 28 years reflective of the need to be role models for teens and young adults. The Board at VENDA is a carefully constructed voluntary team that meets and interacts regularly on planning, support and funding. The core team or the working body that has been together from inception serves as the north star of the organization. VENDA is a collective effort of individuals who work together with a common goal of safeguarding youth in vulnerable communities to steer clear from addictive behaviors and choose a responsible lifestyle.

A little about yourself and what were you doing before embarking on this journey?

I represent an organization that is a vibrant and dedicated group. It’s been the effort of lot of wonderful people that has created and built Fourth Wave Foundation. As for me it’s by choice that I serve in the social sector. I believe in the power of communities to influence change. I am a persistent believer in the goodness of people which gives me reason to keep designing innovative ways of solving social problems through community participation. The Right for a Child to a safe and protected childhood to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity is at the core of all my work at FWF. My work with international agencies like ActionAid, UNESCO in the past was instrumental in shaping my thinking. My current association with the UN at the UNODC and as board member of the World Federation Against Drugs has helped me to formulate projects based on the Article 33 of the UNCRC –UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child. In my closing statement at the 62nd UN congress on the Commission for Narcotics and Drugs presenting Project VENDA and the case of Kerala, I reiterated the fact that as a State -Kerala, we are grappling with the problem. For reference there are not many best practice approaches around the world to learn from. But, given time we will have a story for the world. I believe Kerala has the greatest opportunity to be a case of ‘how a responsible community can work together in keeping its children safe, especially safeguarding the lives of its future generation from the menace of drugs’. This is possible, if we work together. We can be witness to this change in our lifetime.

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