ST FRANCIS FARM: THE PLACE WHERE MIRACLES GROW:
The recent developments at St Francis Farm, Tullow, Co. Carlow, means that Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) can help many more men and women live drug-free lives.
Merchants’ Quay Ireland (MQI) had its small beginnings in the friary in Merchants’ Quay, Dublin, It is now an independent charity but receives supports from the Franciscans, and continues to honour the ethos on which it was founded. St Francis Farm has its origin when Beaumount House and lands were generously bequeathed to the Franciscan Order by the late Patricia Dargan. The Franciscans and Merchant Quay Ireland entered into discussion with Respond!, the voluntary housing agency, to expand the existing farmhouse into a residential drug treatment centre. The expanded centre was officially opened by the Minister of the Environment, Phil Hogan, T.D. on 6th May.
This collaborative project has almost trebled the capacity of the old residential centre to treat those who are homeless and wish to be drug free. When operating at full capacity, this state of the art facility will ease an acute shortage of detox beds for drug users in Ireland, and provide a safe, medically assisted detoxification for up to 130 men and women each year.
Detox and the Transition Into Rehab
Before rehabilitation can take place, the first step away from addiction is detoxification, or “detox”. And for any of those with heroin addictions, a medically assisted detox – like the kind St Francis Farm now offers – is critical. Having detox and residential rehab programmes on one site will maximise resources and be a major advantage for clients who come to St Francis Farm. Once clients are drug free for at least two weeks, they can easily transition into the Farm’s 14-week residential rehabilitation programme, or be placed in other rehab programmes.
Farm Life as Therapy
At St Francis Farm, day-to-day life on a working farm is an essential and unique part of the rehab programme. Whether repairing fences, looking after the animals, sowing seeds or chopping logs, residents learn to face their fears and try new things, building self-sufficiency and personal responsibility all the while. There is also a woodwork shop on site where residents learn wood-turning, carving and basic carpentry skills. All of the produce grown at St Francis Farm supplies not only the Farm itself, but also Merchants Quay’s Dublin facilities.
Direct therapy is provided through group and one-to-one counselling sessions that help residents work through the underlying issues that led to addiction. There are seminars on coping skills, anger management, addiction and bereavement, and educational workshops such as computer training.
Cooking with Chef Ali
Rehab clients take a weeklong turn in the kitchen with Chef Ali, who has been cooking for residents for over five years. Ali helps his chef-apprentices write a menu for their entire seven days, shop, and prepare the meals. His most challenging helper so far didn’t even know how to boil eggs. Ali recalls: “I ask him, ‘How do you live?’ I teach him to cook, simple, simple. Eggs…beef… how to do things for himself. I do whatever I can to help, because they have a future for themselves.” He’s happy to watch clients’ health return. “After a week or so, they’re healthier. They get up early, work in the farm, in the fresh air.” Most rewarding is when he sees them again after a successful rehabilitation. “‘Ali, Ali!’ they say. They hug me, and they’ve done really well for themselves.”
Where Miracles Still Grow
The programme is emotionally intense, admits project worker Ronan O’Riain. And with 15,000 heroin users in Ireland, demand for detox and rehab still outstrips capacity by a long shot. O’Riain has been with Merchants Quay for nine years now, and sees the new detox unit as a positive change because it will provide a “wider range of services” for men and women who need help.
NEIL’S STORY: The Courage to Say Goodbye
At St. Francis Farm, one man gains the strength to say goodbye: to his painful past, longstanding addictions and self-destructive way of life. In the process, he finds a whole new Neil.
Drug use often begins as a way to be one of the gang. Not for Neil. The cocktail of drugs he started using at age 15 – grass, speed, cocaine, ecstasy – was, in his own words, “the cure for my feelings.” From ages 4 to 14, awful childhood events he was too small to control left Neil desperate for a way to “block away nasty memories.” He hid it from his family, saying: “I had a good childhood. I’m glad it happened to me, and not any of the rest of them.” Years later, he was dealing and delivering drugs round the country in order to have money to use them. The self-destructive lifestyle took its toll. “If I had just gone to sleep and never woke up, I would have been happy.”
At his brother-in-law’s urging, Neil rang Merchants Quay’s St. Francis Farm. “Basically, I begged them for help,” he says. “I’ll never forget it.” On the Farm, Neil began residential rehabilitation. Like all clients, he did a turn in the kitchen with Chef Ali, planning and preparing meals. “The food is fabulous,” he laughs. “I’ve put on two stone!” He credits counselling and therapeutic group work with helping him tackle the root causes of his drug use, adding, staff helped me turn my whole life around. I care now about helping out the little boy who was inside me, ‘cause he was shut down a long time ago.”
Like most clients, Neil also finds therapeutic the structured daily routine and farm chores. “It’s no bother doin’ a bit of hard work. I pick up a shovel, I’ll do anything. I’m just happy to breathe the air again – fresh air.” Of the 14-week programme, he wishes it were longer – but is thrilled with the man he’s become. He hopes to take college courses, and to one day return to St. Francis Farm. “I’d love to do voluntary work, if they’ll have me. I’d like to give something back, for what people have done for me.” Neil says, “There’s a lot of people out there, that need help. If Merchants Quay weren’t there, I would have killed myself through overdose. I’m not the old Neil I used to be.”
Adapted from the Merchants Quay Ireland magazine, Quay Times.
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