Speech by President Halimah Yacob at the Launch Of Sana’s “Rise Above – Overcoming The Influence” Campaign

Mrs Quek Bin Hwee, President, SANA

Members of the SANA Board of Management

Community Partners

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good afternoon.

I am happy to be here today to launch the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA)’s “Rise Above” campaign. The campaign focuses on translating the concept of drug prevention into everyday actions for all, especially for youths and their parents.

Since its inception in 1972, SANA has helped many abusers break away from their drug addiction, and provided them with the support to stay drug-free.

Some of them are here with us today. Desmond joined a secret society when he was just 10, and started abusing drugs seven years later. It became a vicious cycle, because when he could not afford to buy drugs, he resorted to crime to feed his habit. Fortunately, he met a counsellor in prison who convinced him to severe ties with his former peers in the secret society, an advice he took to heart. When he was released in 2014, Desmond threw away his SIM card, so he would not be tempted to re-connect with his old friends. He also visited SANA’s Step-Up Centre and enrolled in counselling and tattoo removal programme. Now, his goal is to do well as an interior designer and help others who are in similar situations. Their stories are inspiring, especially their will to change and rise above the challenges.

Like Desmond, many of the ex-abusers present today know too well the devastating impact of drugs - physically, mentally and emotionally, for themselves and their families. They have walked a long and difficult road to overcome their addiction. If they could turn back time, knowing then what they know now, I am sure they would never have started down the road of drugs at all.

I am very encouraged to hear that as part of the Rise Above campaign, SANA will be mobilising, training and supporting 100 ex-abusers to be anti-drug advocates over the next two years. These advocates will share honest, first-hand accounts of their experiences to youths in schools and on the social media. Thank you for sharing your personal struggles. It is definitely not easy to lay bare your mistakes, your losses, sufferings, your pain. But your stories will help the next generation make the right choice, which is to stay away from drugs. I am impressed by your bravery to step forward and share your stories.

To guide our youths further, SANA launched a new platform, Talk2SANA, last year. Those with drug-related issues on their mind can chat online through this channel with SANA’s professional counsellors, privately and anonymously. Talk2SANA also has an e-learning portal where youths can obtain accurate information about drugs.

These are important platforms, especially with the proliferation of the Internet today. Youths are exposed to misinformation that not only downplays the harm of drugs, but also trumpets their so-called “medicinal value”.

The use of cannabis is one example. It is glamourised particularly in social media. However, well-supported research tells us that cannabis is harmful and it can cause irreversible brain damage. In fact, this piece of information is not new. But it does not garner sufficient media attention, unlike the more seductive messages touted by self-interested cannabis users and the industry, that cannabis is a “soft” drug, suitable for occasional, recreational use. When our youths hear such information, I hope they do not blindly accept those claims and assertions, but question them instead.

SANA is also encouraging our youths to share accurate information and debunk the myths about drugs. It is crucial that youths create their own positive circles of influence.

I am happy to see students from ITE College Central, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, Jurong Secondary School, Raffles Institution and NUS High School who are here to help lead the way. As part of this campaign, they have developed projects to help their peers learn why staying drug-free is an important choice they have to make, for the sake of themselves and their families.  

Apart from the youths, parents play a pivotal role. We cannot overstate the importance of their involvement. As parents, we need to proudly embrace a healthy, drug-free lifestyle, and lead by example. When our children see us step up, they will be spurred to stay firm in the fight against drugs. Parents play an important role to guide our children. They are the ones who are the first to see any changes in their children.

I would like to share some insights from Cdah (“see-dah”), who is here with us this afternoon. Cdah is a pillar of strength and inspiration to her 19-year-old daughter as well as her husband, who is an ex-abuser. Cdah and her daughter joined the SANA Family Support Group last year. Cdah strongly believes that parents need to give their children the facts and guide them through issues to help them make positive choices. Cdah walks the talk. She openly discusses thorny issues with her daughter on a daily basis, covering topics from drugs and peer pressure to bullying.

As parents, ensuring our children’s future is our primary responsibility. These conversations can sometimes be difficult and awkward. Some parents may not know where to start or what to watch out for. I am heartened that SANA will be devoting more effort to support these parents. This October, SANA will roll out the Family Education and Skills Training Programme for Drug Abuse Prevention. The programme will focus on building positive family relationships and helping parents engage their children. 

Keeping our country and children free from drugs requires all of us to play a part. The authorities will continue to enforce and go down hard on drug traffickers. Individually, we need to use our influence within our own social circle to combat misinformation about drugs when we see it.

Employers also play an important role in the reintegration process. For example, SANA beneficiary and Peer Leader, Azahari, will be completing his Diploma in Chemical Engineering in September. He is currently attending interviews and hopes to get a job as soon as he graduates. We need more employers to open their doors to people like Azahari and provide them with opportunities to turn a new leaf. I would like to urge employers to open their doors to give ex-drug abusers a second chance. 

I would like to thank SANA, and all other Voluntary Welfare Organisations, including Singapore After Care Association and Industrial & Services Co-operative Society, for playing a key role in drug prevention education, and for providing support and help for those who are trying to turn over a new leaf, as well as for their families.

Thank you.