Daniel Omar began using drugs when he was 14. He dropped out of school, left his family, and began a downward spiral, all too familiar in his impoverished Mexico City neighborhood. Centros de Integración Juvenil (CIJ) offered Daniel a chance to break the cycle of depression and addiction and harness his passion for technology.
In 2008, CIJ launched a Cisco Networking Academy program with therapists, not IT specialists, as the instructors. When students study IT Essentials at CIJ, they also practice healthy habits of mind with guidance from therapists who understand their unique challenges.
Instead of relying on IT experts, CIJ trained its own therapists to deliver the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum. Patients attend a group therapy session before class to work on self-esteem and ways to help each other. In class, the therapist introduces the topics and an IT expert volunteer is on hand to help. The therapists understand the unique challenges of each patient and how to keep them from giving up or losing focus.
For many young people, the Networking Academy course marks the first time they have worked toward a goal and accomplished it. They made a plan and succeeded by effort, not by chance. The success and accomplishment is essential to recovery.
When the patient leaves treatment, family members are key to preventing remission. CIJ encourages parents and grandparents to be part of the recovery process. Those who commit to their child’s or grandchild’s recovery process are invited to join the Networking Academy class. They work in the same group, but at their own pace as independent students in their own space.
They learn to solve problems, help each other and develop a common interest. “They can interact with each other in a place that is far away from their everyday problems,” said Juan Jose. “The training empowers patients economically. They discover or rediscover skills they can use to provide for their family.”
One of the biggest challenges for the program was to help the therapists overcome their own fears about learning something new and integrating it into therapy. Armando Diaz, a CIJ therapist instructor, knew very little about computers when he began the program. He still used paper and pen and avoided the new electronic medical records system; he didn´t even had a cell phone.
He embraced the opportunity and now teaches IT Essentials and feels confident using everything related to technology. Armando has switched to the e-records system and uses computers for work and at home. Many of the therapists have begun using social media to talk about the academy and share the accomplishments of their students.
Approximately 100 patients have completed the program since 2008. “The purpose of the Cisco Academy at CIJ is to address drug issues in a sustainable way,” said Juan Jose. “We help patients recover and become a part of society. The academy provides a strong link to therapy that will help keep the patients going when they are out on their own.”
When Daniel completed his treatment, he opened a computer repair workshop in his home. He makes a little money doing what he loves and provides a valuable service in his neighborhood. He still attends therapy every 2 weeks with the support of his girlfriend who has been key to his recovery. He is back at school to study math and engineering with a new passion for a new life.
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