In my discussions with the students of St. Herman Seminary, it has become abundantly clear that the problem of alcoholism in the villages of Alaska is going to require an entirely different approach than what has been tried in the 'Lower 48.' The magnatude of the problems here are on a scale we hardly can imagine.
The students have described subsistence fishing villages where unemployment runs around 70-80%, where entire families are drunk on 'home brew' (a type of 'beer' made from water, sugar, orange juice, and yeast which can either be distilled or drunk straight), where the children raise themselves because both parents are drunk, where these problems and recent Diocesan problems have emptied parishes. The students are enthusiastic about evangelizing and bringing parishioners back to the Church after the painful experiences of a few years ago, but they know they must return with answers to the problems their communities face.
There are many issues to address: can we do in-patient treatment on a one-on-one level but then send the patient back to a village community and family that has not been treated? That's what has been tried and failed.
Or, can we expect someone to stay sober while unemployed and forced to stay in-doors during long winters?
There are also questions about how to restore the village elders' confidence and reputations, which has been undermined by modern society. The modern commercialist influence has deprived the young of the guidance of the elders, who used to reign in unacceptable behavior and provide life-counseling to the young.
The state has rushed in with 'services,' but the villages are too small to support standard counseling services and so these professional counselors fly in and out of the villages on a schedule that suites them, making them unavailable in times of crisis. If we try this, we will fail just as these programs are failing.
The Church is present in these villages, and those villages that have a priest already have a full-time counselor... if we train them to have that skill-set. If we can also find a way to restore village elders to their rightful places as community counselors, we can form village-based treatment that is both effective and practical (along with a lot less expensive than flying alcoholism counselors around rural Alaska!).
There would be more priests if St. Herman Seminary's capacity were increased, but the more immediate issue is forming an addictions recovery curriculum to hone the students' counseling skills and give them the information they will need to implement a Diocesan plan for the village. That's the most pressing issue: how can we form a program, and how can we effectively communicate with the villages to assess their real needs and form a plan that will suit them.
The Lower 48 model has failed. It is time for a new approach. This is an exciting time, but also an incredible challenge.
The OCMC is now working with the Diocese of Alaska on a new approach to addictions treatment, which this visit here has become a preparation for. If you are interested in supporting this, you can contribute to OCMC and mark your donation 'Alaska Recovery Project'-
If you work in the field of counseling or a related area pertaining to addictions, we could really use your help. The semianry needs professions who would be willing to participate in short-term mission trips and advisory roles. Please contact OCMC if you would be interested.