How Long Have U Been Using? Drug Counselling on MXit in South Africa

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Jul 27, 2009

MXit is a mobile social networking service hugely popular with young South Africans who flock to it by the millions.  Marlon Parker is a social entrepreneur and lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology where he’s doing his PhD who saw his drug-addicted brother go to jail. Put Marlon's personal experience together with the conversations happening on MXit every day, and you have DAS, Drug Advice Support.

In an article in South Africa's Business Times recently, Parker describes DAS:

Drug users can “chat” with the services’ counsellors when they feel the urge to use, says Parker. It is the first step in a rehabilitation programme run with nongovernmental organisation Impact Direct. The service, which is called Drug Advice Support, has since expanded to include advice on careers, rape and child abuse and an advisory service for those infected with HIV/Aids.

MXit has a registered userbase of over 11 million, about 17 million log-ons per day and over 250 million messages sent and received per day. The application is distributed internationally and used by users in over 120 countries daily, but the bulk of its userbase is in South Africa and Indonesia with fast growth in 123 other countries, according to a January 2009 article in IT Web.

There are now more than 6,000 people who use the service - some 300 a day, on average. And this on a shoe-string budget, run entirely by volunteers who staff donated computers at the local NGO at certain hours during the day.  Addicts using the service who are mostly in the Western Cape where drug abuse is soaring, are invited for more intensive face-to-face couneling services at Impact, if they want. 

Parker explains that the four hours a week when volunteers staff the computer to chat with addicts on MXit, "serves as a gateway to reach those who believed they had no other avenue in getting help."

Parker says on his blog:

"Wherever we go to share the story of Drug Advice Support people always ask why are we doing what we are doing and what is our payment. People are amazed that this is a community initiative that has been running since 2008 and touching the lives of thousands of people. Just reading the messages below encourages us to persevere and not give up knowing we are seeing more lives being reconstructed.

[2009-05-28 17:49:17] User: Hi dare n hey i wnt 2 thank u abt ur wrds nw im proud of wht i am n al the suicidal thoughts r gone keep up da gud wrk.

[2009-06-01 17:23:32] User: Just thought i'd let you guys know i've been clean for a month now - thanx for the help!

With thousands of people having their lives transformed through such a noble service we know that we cant stop what we are doing but only look for ways to improve what we've started.

Today, Parker is lauching a new service on MXit, HIV Zone, that is information and help in 5 languages aimed at South African Youth. 

And there is more: 

From drug counselling the project has branched out into other areas and different problems. Parker also has a project involving mothers called Mom 2.0, which addresses problems such as abortion, single-parenting, HIV/AIDS and works on the same concept. Parker even participates in counselling MXit addicts, notes an article in BixCommunity.

Below are two videos where yoiu can see DAS volunteers in action.

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