No carnival ride

When I first heard the word Whoonga, I immediately remembered Grade 6 and roller coasters.  A friend of mine used to take me to one of the best amusement parks in our state and we would laugh until we cried on all the exhilarating rides.  One of those rides……was called Whoonga (or something along those lines.)  But in South Africa, Whoonga (also spelled Wunga) is definitely not a roller coaster ride.  Although it does take you places you have never been before.

Whoonga is a uniquely South African street drug that is highly addictive and destructive.  Developed in the Durban area in 2010, the main ingredients are heroin and marijuana (locally known as dagga.)  Other ingredients are then added to fill out the drug.  Reports differ as to what exactly is added, but the mix usually contains some or all of the following – rat poison, detergent powder, anti-retroviral drugs, milk powder, pool cleaner and bicarbonate of soda.

Example of Whoonga

Example of Whoonga

Street drugs are common and out of control in our township.  At Seed of Hope, we do a lot of proactive work in relation to drugs – teaching in our afternoon programs and our school outreach programs about the dangers of drugs and helping children develop tools to be able to resist peer pressure.  Over the last 5 months, health services at Seed of Hope has branched into a new area of service.  More than 10 young men have come in begging for help to get off of drugs.  Unfortunately, there are not many rehabilitation facilities available for people who cannot afford to pay, so we have been on a journey of finding ways to help these young men.

Meet Sbo.  (Name changed for privacy protection.)

He was in his late teens when he started drugs.  A nicely dressed man in a silver BMW  approached him after school and offered him a drag.  Whoonga.  Sbo, of course, did not know that a person can become highly addicted after using the drug only once.  He liked the looks of this man, and took the drag.  That moment changed the direction of his life.  He soon agreed to sell Whoonga for Mr. Silver BMW in exchange for free drugs for himself.

That was the beginning of the end.

Sbo became so highly addicted, he needed more than the supplier would give him for free.  A user soon feels as if he needs up to 5 hits a day to make it through the day.  Despite the fact Whoonga is relatively ‘cheap’ – selling for about R20-30 per portion ($2-$3), for school kids it starts out being affordable, but the habit soon outdoes their potential income.

This is what happened to Sbo.  He started stealing from his family and then from his neighbours to support his habit.  Soon he was no longer safe in his neighbourhood, as people were angry and violent towards him because of his thieving.

Sbo came to us desperate… Desperate to get out of the deep hole he was in.  He is now in a rehab facility and we hope and pray that he is able to regain control of his life and when he returns home, he will be able to stay clean and start afresh.

Because the drug is so cheap, it is a favourite among school children.  The situation is critical and Whoonga addiction is ravaging the townships. Children as young as 14 years old drop out of school to work for drug dealers just to get a free hit. Young girls work as prostitutes to pay for their drugs.

Once Whoonga is smoked, the user experiences intense euphoria, deep contentment and relaxation. The feeling is beyond human experience and the intense effect lasts for about four hours. When this blissful state wears off after six to 24 hours , agonising withdrawal symptoms set in like severe abdominal pain and back ache, sweating, chills, anxiety, restlessness, depression, nausea and diarrhoea.  The user does whatever he/she can do to get the next hit.

Yesterday we took two more young men to another rehab facility.  We have about 5 more that are waiting for our help.  We pray that they will be able to successfully regain control of their lives.  I read a statistic, however, that was disheartening.  It said that only approximately 5% of users will be able to get off of heroin.  Heroin addiction is intense and powerful.  

Our prayers go with these young men, and we pray that this is the beginning of the end of drugs in Bhekulwandle!


8 Responses to No carnival ride
  1. Ruth Reply

    Michelle thank you for painting the picture so vividly of Whoonga!!!! Blessings as you seek ways to help. Thanks for all you are doing!

    • Michelle Reply

      We honestly feel quite out of our league, but stepping out in faith. Thanks for your love and prayers!

  2. Lee Reply

    Will keep these young people in my prayers, It sad to see drug addiction over there too, Thankyou for helping them find help, Love you all

    • Michelle Reply

      Yes, drugs are ruining so many young people’s lives. We have been watching the fentanyl news from Canada. Heartbreaking too….

  3. Nadine Reply

    Tragic! But Jesus can do anything!

    • Michelle Reply

      I have to remember that promise – with God all things are possible!

  4. Gerry & Donna Reply

    Oh Michelle – the heartbreak that hits me when I realize the magnitude of your team’s challenges on a daily basis. Only living and working in your community over the long-term can any of us appreciate the enormity of the task you all face. I know that these are the times when we can serve you best from afar by holding both you and each of your clients up to God and asking his grace and provision for all of you in our prayers. May God give you an abundance of patience and trust that He will provide for every need you encounter in His time.
    THANKS so much for taking the time to challenge our hearts in making a difference through your work!

    • Michelle Reply

      Thank you for reading and commenting! Means a lot to us! We have an update on our two young addicts. One of them did not last the day. He broke a rule and was immediately expelled from the program. This was disheartening for us…. but the good news is that the other young man is committed and “flying” in the program. He is determined to change his life and we are thrilled! He is one of the most well-known drug addicts in a neighbouring community, so we are praying that he will be successful in his life change and can pave the way for others! Next week, we have 2 more young men who will be starting rehabilitation. And have about 6 more in the queue!

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