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Pioneering spirit in Africa

When Charlie Searson SJ returns to his mission in Zambia after a holiday in Ireland, he has a meeting with the Zambian government concerning the drinks industry in the country. The Irish Jesuit is Director of the Pioneer Association there and part of a committee of NGO’s who’ve drafted an alcohol policy on behalf on the Zambian government. They’ve been working on it for over six years and he’s just found out its implementation has been stalled as the drinks industry there has requested a meeting with the relevant government Minister.

Charlie Searson, in this interview with Pat Coyle of  Irish Jesuit Communications, says he’s confident they can push through the policy despite opposition from vested interest companies who profit from alcohol, like the international breweries who are now driving petrol-size tankers into villages to sell alcohol to the locals in two gallon containers.”Actual tankers full of drink- can you believe that?… There was always alcohol in Africa but it was made from millet or some such  by one or two people so it was available only in small amounts”, he says. If the lobby group are not successful he’s adamant they will be on the march and doing whatever is necessary to make sure the government follow through with the policy implementation.

There are over 20,000 pioneers in Zambia, he says, and when he returns he’ll be travelling to Malawai to set up the Pioneer Association there, hoping for similar success in numbers. “Zambia and Malawai are countries like Ireland where there are people who don’t drink at all, people who drink in moderation, and people who abuse drink by drinking to excess.” he says. He quotes a recent World Health Organisation report that says the highest rate of binge drinking by women in the world occurs  in Zambia and South Africa. He says this takes a huge toll on individual women’s health and on the whole family network.

“One of the aims of the Pioneer Association is not to be anti-drink but to encourage people to drink in moderation”, he adds and to this end, Charlie Searson regularly visits schools in Zambia, spreading his message to young adults who are not always easily convinced. One young man stood up to me once and said, “Father, how can we be happy if we don’t get drunk?”

Charlie himself stopped drinking ten years ago when his nephew was in serious trouble with alcohol. Sadly he died two years ago. Next year, the Pioneer Association in Zambia will host the 5th Pan-African Congress on alcohol abuse and they’ve invited people from all walks of life including health care professionals, counsellors and anyone who has an interested in the issue of problem drinking, to come along. If you are interested in his work of this conference you can contact him by email: searson@jesuits.net