For the past 36 years, Joseph Hawatt and his organization, J.A.D. (Jenuesse Anti Drogue, Youth Against Drugs) have been combating addiction of all types in Lebanon. While J.A.D. primarily focuses on drug and alcohol addiction, the organization also raises awareness about gambling and internet gaming addictions. Seeing no formal program in Lebanon to inform youth and communities about the dangers of addiction, Mr. Hawatt formed J.A.D. in 1981.This past week, Joseph kindly sat down with me in his office in Hboub Jbeil to discuss the initiatives J.A.D. has taken to combat addiction in Lebanon and the challenges still being faced.
The main J.A.D. facility houses Mr. Hawatt’s office, and an impressive center dedicated to training and combatting addiction. There is a large museum featuring exhibits for all age groups on the effects of misuse of alcohol and use of drugs, and a gallery comprised of paintings by local and international artists, all depicting the damaging effects of addiction. The facility also contains a separate area used for police and army training, that displays various ways drugs are smuggled into Lebanon, and how they may be concealed once in the country. Mr. Hawatt and his team travel all over the world collecting paraphernalia and drug related artifacts to conduct such training and keep Lebanon’s army and police informed. J.A.D. also offers parents an opportunity to increase awareness as to the signs that their children may be using illegal drugs.
While the museum and training center offers a formal means to combat addiction, J.A.D. also sponsors a basketball team, to give youth a positive outlet. Several recovered addicts credit the discipline and companionship of the team with aiding them in their journey to being drug-free. As we toured the museum and training area, Mr. Hawatt proudly pointed out the trophy case, filled to the brim, celebrating the accomplishments of the J.A.D. team.
J.A.D. does not charge for entrance into the museum, the training space, or its programs and has the capability to bring a mobile exhibition or training program to local schools and groups requesting such services. Instead, the organization relies on donations, fundraising, and small sales from their shop of anti-addiction merchandise. To run campaigns and programs, J.A.D. relies on a cadre of volunteers across Lebanon, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, and students.
Surprisingly, J.A.D. does not hold a connection to any political party or religious sect. In a nation where religious affiliation and political party determine most aspects of life, an organization deliberately refusing connection to either is an anomaly. Joseph stated that this refusal to associate with any party has made securing funding difficult, however, he feels that the organization’s independence from political association is necessary to serve the greatest percentage of the Lebanese population. Lobbying by J.A.D. has recently resulted in new legislation banning smoking indoors at restaurants and cafes. Although this law is facing challenges in implementation, passing the law was an important first step toward reducing smoking.
The mission of J.A.D. is an admirable one, however, those who seek to make money from the drug trade have historically harassed Mr. Hawatt and others involved with the NGO. Recently, Joseph’s car was damaged by one such group and he has continually received threats to cease his work with the organization. Despite such opposition, Joseph Hawatt and J.A.D. continue to work toward an addiction free Lebanon.