Case Study (Muslim Fathers/Drugs and Alcohol): Multi-agency drug education project with Bangladeshi

4 February 2008

A multi-agency approach in a mosque environment during Ramadan (holy Islamic month) for Bangladeshi fathers in Tower Hamlets, east London – run by NAFAS (see below for contact details).

Key people and organisations involved on the project

• New Deal Community (NDC) Healthy Schools Drug Education Worker.
• NDC Outreach Worker / Nafas Drug Education Worker.
• NDC Abstinence Support Worker.
• Rihlah Parents Drug Education Co-ordinator.
• East London Mosque Community Cohesion Project Co-ordinator.

Targeted parent group – Bangladeshi fathers

It is recognised that Bangladeshi fathers and other male members of the family play a positive role in the Bangladeshi family structure. Tower Hamlets has not focused on targeting Bangladeshi fathers in the past. Whereas mothers are accessible through primary school activities and community events, all agencies recognise the difficulty and complexity of engaging with Bangladeshi fathers in schools or anywhere else.

Older brothers and uncles were involved in the session. The Bangladeshi community tends to have an extended family system, therefore the role of other adult male family members can be equally positive. Mothers and sisters made a contribution on the Muslim Community Radio (MCR).

Model piloted to work with targeted parents

Using a multi-agency approach drawing on various experiences and qualities of projects and project workers, working with Bangladeshi fathers in the holy month of Ramadan by using means of faith, culture and festive spiritual atmosphere. The interventions took place at a local mosque which involved working with the Imams (religious leaders).

Activities involved

• Drug education seminar/workshop at the East London Mosque during Ramadan.
• Involvement and training of Imams.
• Live discussion by fathers and young people on Muslim Community Radio (MCR).
• Development and use of Ramadan calendar.

Changes to the planned model that evolved while piloting

• Venue changes
It was originally planned to work with Bangladeshi fathers from the NDC area in the Ocean Estate, however the local mosque facility was not adequate in capacity to hold a workshop/seminar. It was also felt that the small community in the NDC area would be more difficult to work with as it was identified that they have negative attitude towards drug education and being a small community where most people know each other, it may prevent fathers from attending a planned workshop/seminar. With the help of the Drugs Worker from East London Mosque, the venue for the workshop was moved to East London Mosque.

• Muslim Community Radio
Fathers who participated in the workshop/seminar were keen to have a live discussion on local Muslim Community Radio with young people; they thought it was important to get the message out to the wider audience and MCR would be a good means.

• Involvement of new projects
Rihlah Drugs Project and East London Mosque Community Cohesion Project developed a keen interest in the pilot project and committed their support and became part of the multi-agency intervention.

• Multi-agency Ramadan calendar
This was initiated by a number of local organisations. Three members of the pilot project were part of this partnership and were able to influence the information on the calendar with some of the objectives of the Drug Education for Hard to Reach Parents Project. The calendar was very successful, as Muslims tend to depend on its timetable for praying and breaking fast during Ramadan. It was given free to the Muslim community in Tower Hamlets. It was the first resource of its kind and included key messages on drugs, parental responsibility, communicating with your children, community safety issues, where to get help and advice with contact numbers of local services and a key religious message of the day.

What worked well

• Key workers from the different organisations brought a wide range of skills, experiences, resources and qualities to meet the challenge of engaging with Bangladeshi fathers.

• The workers were very flexible in their approach. Interventions had to be delivered outside working hours – evenings, weekends and around prayer times.

• Workers had motivation, determination and passion to make a difference in the community. Partnership working was open and transparent.

• Effective communication between key workers made for rapid actions and responses.

• Ramadan and use of mosque
The spirit of Ramadan played a significant part on the success of the session and the mosque provided a safe environment for fathers. It is common practice for males to attend regular congregation prayers, relax, socialise, and in particular to break fast in the month of Ramadan at the mosque. The pilot project created interest in the East London Mosque Community Cohesion Project and as a result they provided facilities and catering arrangements for iftaar (breaking of fast). This has established a firm relationship with a very progressive project and will create further opportunities in working with the mosque in the near future.

• Half-day drug education seminar at East London Mosque
The workers agreed to hold one single event rather than a series of events to engage with fathers who may not commit to a lengthy series of workshops.

• Muslim Community Radio (MCR)
MCR is a very popular and established community radio. The station is based next to East London Mosque and broadcasts to the whole community in both English and Bengali. The aim was to have a live discussion with fathers and young people from the NDC area on drug issues. This would highlight the concerns about communication problems faced by both, the young people and the parents. It will also give young people the opportunity to represent their views. Dr Abdul Bari who is a known provider of training on parenting skills, and from a Bangladeshi background, was a guest speaker on the show. The phone lines were very busy with calls from the community. Parents called from their homes and engaged in the discussions. The slot on MCR was at a peak time, an hour before iftaar, as most people listen to the radio before breaking their fast to listen out for their call to prayer/iftaar time. The topic created a stimulating debate. It became apparent that young people struggled to communicate in Bengali with Bangladeshi fathers and the fathers struggled to communicate in English with the young people. The other parents who called in supported and enforced the objectives of the pilot project. They encouraged other parents to be proactive and play a greater role in building good caring and understanding relationship with young people who may be at risk of using drugs.

• Working with Imams
Working with the Imams proved to be very beneficial. The Imams are very important and well respected by the Bangladeshi community. The Imams were able to reinforce the information and messages that the fathers had gained from the workshop/seminar.

• Style and technique used to engage and communicate with the fathers
The workers were very aware of the need to respect and value the Bangladeshi culture, the Muslim religion and the life experiences of the fathers.

• Fathers were given time and space to express themselves at all times.

• Most conversations were taking place in Sylheti.

• Use of relative examples with the use of Bengali humour.

• Very interactive, used contribution and experience of the fathers.

What did not work so well

• Friday prayer sermon
It was planned to have a slot on drug issues on the Friday prayer sermon at the mosque. However due to demand for various international issues and faith topics, this was not possible. The Friday sermon has the potential to reach over 3,000 worshippers at the East London Mosque.

• Written materials
Many of the fathers in the group were unable to read and understand written materials so the workers decided that it would not be appropriate to use written materials as key handouts. Posters and leaflets were not used for the same reason; rather advertisements were broadcast in Bengali/Sylheti on MCR. The evaluation sheets were difficult to implement. The workers had to complete the sheets on behalf of the parents and this proved to be very time consuming. Without extra help, the evaluation sheets can be very problematic.

• Materials used when working with parents
It was established that the majority of the fathers would struggle to use written materials and this would create a barrier in engagement. Therefore priority was given to practical and visual methods rather than the use of written materials.

• Interactivity
Experiential examples from the parents were used. The parents could personally and culturally relate to these examples from the community in Tower Hamlets and from their experience in Bangladesh. The cultural relevancy is crucial in communication and engaging the parents and sustaining their interest.

• Visual
The video Ocean Parents Against Drugs (OPAD) was used to support the workshop/seminar. The video was especially compiled to meet the needs of the Bangladeshi parents in the NDC as it portrays the local area in Tower Hamlets in terms of population and the language spoken: Sylheti is the dialect more commonly used.

Key themes covered in drug education for parents

• Introduction to the project.
• Parents attitude exploration.
• Parents needs analysis on their level of knowledge and understanding around drugs.
• Parenting skills, the importance of communication.
• OPAD video; main drugs effecting Bangladeshi community, drugs and the law.
• Group discussion on the impact drugs can have on the family and community. Information on the services and support available.
• Question and answer.
• Iftaar (breaking of fast); social interaction between fathers, Imams and drug workers and an opportunity to seek further advice and support, and look at information stalls.

Impact the project has had on the parents

Do the parents have more knowledge about drugs? Do parents feel confident to talk to their children about drugs?

• There was a shift in attitude from some fathers. This was measured by follow up discussions with them at the end of the workshop/seminar. Two fathers who participated in the workshop/seminar have volunteered to support the Rihlah Drugs Project Worker to develop further drug education initiatives to engage other fathers who regularly attend the mosque.

• The fathers’ knowledge about drugs was very limited at the beginning of the session but they were very aware of the level of problems in the community. At the end of the session, the group had gained knowledge on the legal status and classification of many drugs.

• The fathers appreciated the opportunity to see placebo drugs and became familiar with what drugs look like.

• The evaluation showed that, after viewing the video, the parents were able to name the three main drugs that were identified as a problem in Tower Hamlets (cannabis, heroin and crack cocaine).

• The fathers said they were more confident in discussing the issues of drugs with their children but would benefit from further support and guidance/training. They acknowledged the gap in experiences and understanding between the two generations and indicated they would be keen to get involved in future work.

• The parents felt that although it is important for them to understand their children, it is equally important for their children to have an understanding of them; how they feel, their life experiences, difficulties they faced when settling into this country, their priorities. Many young Bangladeshi are unable to communicate fluently in Bengali and find it difficult to express themselves and the parents find it hard to understand.

• Some of the fathers are also grandparents and will use their knowledge and skills to communicate with their grandchildren.

Partnership working between key people

Partnership working was crucial to raise drug awareness at community level. The key people brought different aspects, resources and qualities of drugs work together; parents involvement in drug education and prevention in schools, parents education and support work from the mosque, abstinence support work for people coming off drugs, drugs outreach work, reaching young people on the streets and culturally sensitive drugs work. Additionally, the key workers are all local residents in the borough of Tower Hamlets and are very familiar with the local Bangladeshi community.

How did the key workers feel in working with this parent group?
• The key workers were confident in working with parents around drug issues and developing communication skills.
• Some of the key workers have limited Sylheti vocabulary and expressions, which in some instances proved to be difficult when communicating with the fathers.

Key learning out of this project

• Multi-agency approach is very effective, resourceful and brings a wide range of experience and expertise.
• Workers from the community are likely to have knowledge, understanding, and who speak and understand the language can empathise, relate and communicate effectively with Bangladeshi parents.
• Male workers are more suitable when working with fathers especially in a mosque environment.
• A friendly, safe and familiar environment is important to make contact and engage with parents; the mosque was a good venue for Bangladeshi fathers.
• Need to be flexible in timing; any intervention should be at a time that is convenient to the parents. The workshop/seminar with the Bangladeshi fathers was based around prayer and breaking of fast.
• Community radio is a good means of engaging with parents who do not attend community venues or mosques and reaches a wider audience. From the experience of the live radio discussion, it is clear that parents are confident to come live on air to ask and put forward views on various community related issues from their own home or own space.
• Ramadan is a good time to concentrate and focus on key community issues, including drugs, for the Muslim community; Bangladeshi fathers were more receptive during Ramadan due to the nature of the holy month.

Other outcomes of the project

The work with Bangladeshi fathers has made clear that professionals are working with parents and not just young people. This in time will create for young people, who may face communication or cultural barriers at home, the opportunity and confidence to engage with adults or use services that work with parents.

Areas of development identified for future work
• Producing further drug education materials to work with the Bangladeshi and Muslim community.
• Training drug workers in Bangladeshi culture and providing them with the skills for working with Bangladeshi parents.
• Developing a model for using MCR during the month of Ramadan which will allow more airtime and evaluation methods to measure the impact.
• Creating future projects for parents together with all the agencies involved in the pilot.
• Developing work with young people that will support the work with parents. Many of the young people on MCR expressed the need to engage with their parents and other adults from the community and have a better reciprocal understanding of each others feeling and experiences.
• Developing a stage drama that will entertain and educate parents. Many Bangladeshi parents enjoy the Bengali family drama ‘Natok’. This could be a useful and creative means in delivering drug education to Bangladeshi parents.

What could be done differently if replicated
• Use of culturally appropriate images and pictures.
• Work with young people to support work with parents.
• Use of drama entertainment to deliver drug education.

Drug Education for Hard to Reach Parents: Engaging parents in drug education by Hajra Mir (2004; London: Drugscope). A full copy of this report can be downloaded from DrugScope’s website: click here.

Contact details

Contact NAFAS c/o 10 Turin Street, Bethnal Green, London E2 6BG. Tel Harun Miah 0207 729 0044 or email  OR Carol Marsh on 0207 922 8615.

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