From Ecstasy to Agony and Back Journeying with Adolescents on the Street

As apparent from the tagline, Barnabe  D’Souza’s From Ecstasy to Agony and Back presents the journey of adolescent street drug-addicts – from psychological brokenness resulting from family disruption to the process of mend; from physical abuse, mental trauma and vulnerability to building up of self-esteem, talents and personality; and finally to the process of moving off the ‘streets’ and getting into the mainstream. 

The book not only dissects threadbare the trials and tribulations of street children but also proposes a solution laying bare what needs to be done by the policy makers and social sector to transform the so-called vagabonds into assets for the society. Divided into seven chapters, it suggests an action framework which could lead to a change in the mindsets of street adolescents and society at large. 
In other words, D’Souza, the Director of Don Bosco Balprafulta and Don Bosco Research Centre and founder of Maria Ashiana, follows what was prescribed by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire –‘reflection without action is sheer verbalism or armchair revolution and action without reflection is pure activism, or action for action’s sake’ – and comes up with concrete recommendations on what needs to be done by the establishment and NGO sector to bring children back into the social fold. 
D’Souza, who claims to have worked with the street children for over 26 years, proposes a five-phase therapeutic approach – awareness of situation and preparation through street enablers, peers and programmes, detoxification process through counseling and hospitalisation, therapeutic community processes involving trauma reconciliation and behaviour modification therapy, training and group home living through skill development and employment and societal integration processes through independent living to family reconciliation – to effect a paradigm shift from the streets to off the streets.

The approach recognises that drug consumption is not the problem but rather a consequence of factors intrinsic to street life, that majority of street adolescents’ occupations sustain their street lifestyle and that relapse and sustenance of street culture is due to a lack of shift in mindset.

The book says the ‘street kids are constantly balancing short-term coping strategies against potential risks and future consequences of their actions and decisions’ and tend to establish relatively long-term relationships with their peers and drug abusers. For street children particularly in developing countries, ‘substance abuse, sexual abuse, and violence are all part of a complex series of factors affecting their lives’. 

D’Souza draws upon a plethora of case studies to claim that street children become conscious of the ‘dirty’ nature of their ragpicking and scrap-collecting work and make efforts to look for other ‘less dirty’ occupations. He regrets that people at large look down upon them. “The misconception is that  street  children are addicts, uncontrollable and violent, and have no emotions or moral values. As a result of these misconceptions, people tend to be unsympathetic and indifferent to the actual plight of street children”, he writes in 2nd chapter titled Shadows and Silhouettes. The boys’ low self-esteem, he argues, make them adopt what society considers deviant behaviour. According to him, the street boys attempt to overcome their low self-esteem by overt displays of machismo. 

The book emphasises on orientation of street boys at outreach, residential homes and towards detoxification, skill training and independent living. It quotes from an unpublished study undertaken by the author’s organisation to say that about 28 per cent boys ran away from rehabilitation between 1999 and 2009 for fear of injections or pain of withdrawal symptoms, boredom, lack of companionship, misconceptions about the programme, inconsiderate treatment by the staff and inadequate follow-up. 

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