From Chestertown to Zambia – Cultural Arts Support Sobriety

In every community worldwide, there are people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Thankfully, there are also those inspired to help. The Chestertown Rotary Club has come together with Maryland nonprofit CoLaborers International to do just that.

Zambia is one of the African nations with the greatest alcohol consumption (WHO, 2015), particularly among youth (de la Torre-Luque et al., 2021). Marijuana, cigarettes, opiates, cocaine, and inhalants such as glues and petrol are also commonly abused. While local nonprofits and churches provide what helps they can, widespread drug and alcohol treatment has been historically inaccessible to the average Zambian. Where services exist, they are very expensive and typically were not fully integrated into the health-care system (Akiba et al., 2018; Smith, 2011, Mwape et al., 2012).

In 2015, CoLaborers International began field testing a drug and alcohol curriculum developed specifically using Zambian cultural art forms to engage young people. This is called “Literacy-Free 12 Step Expressive Arts Therapy” authored by Melissa Davis Stuebing, a Maryland drug and alcohol counselor formerly with A.F. Whitsitt Center. There are also U.S. English, Latin American Spanish, and Kenyan versions of this curriculum.

In this curriculum, drug and alcohol therapeutic concepts are explored in small groups using local cultural art forms – dancing, drumming, gourd art, storytelling and more.  “While participating in the art activities, people feel comfortable to share about their substance use and receive help. Sharing removes shame and healing begins”, says Stuebing.

After clinical studies of the effectiveness of this curriculum both in the US and Zambia from 2015-2017, Zambia’s Ministry of Health endorsed a large training in this curriculum in 2018. Over 40 organizations across the country were trained to bring it into their communities and a larger clinical study followed. This was funded through a Rotary grant between our own Chestertown Rotary Club and Rotary of Lusaka Central.

In 2022, a study was published in peer-reviewed journal “Addictive Behaviors Reports” by Hjordis Lorenz, Melissa Davis Stuebing, Chipego Nambeye, Gabriel Lungu (from Ministry of Health), and Lauren Littlefield of our own Washington College as they followed the trained organizations as they implemented the curriculum into their own communities. Research confirmed the curriculum’s efficacy to decrease substance use and increase verbal sharing among participants (Lorenz, 2022).

With drug and alcohol treatment now more accessible in communities with the backing of the Ministry of Health, Chestertown Rotary wanted to turn its attention to make treatment available in schools. Zambia’s Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) was already doing prevention efforts. CoLaborers International coordinated with DEC to identify guidance counselors, nonprofits helping school children, and school anti-drug clubs to be trained in the curriculum as a deliverable treatment option to students already struggling with substance use.

CoLaborers Zambia trainers Nanyemba Hamahuwa Chirwa and Chipo Nambeye trained 74 professionals in this curriculum from October through March and it is now already being applied in school settings.  The motto of Rotary is “Service above Self” and the motto of CoLaborers Zambia is “Together we can do so much”.

To learn more about how you can get involved in Chestertown Rotary, visit

REFERENCES (in order of occurrence)

World Health Organization (WHO). (2015). Zambia: WHO statistical profile (pp. 1–3).

  1. de la Torre-Luque, F. Ozeylem, C.A. Essau. Prevalence of addictive behaviours among adolescents from 73 low-and middle-income countries. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 14 (2021), Article 100387, 10.1016/j.abrep.2021.100387
  2. Lemba. Rapid assessment of street children in Lusaka. Project Concern International
  3. Akiba, et al. Treatment of an HIV-affected adolescent with heroin dependence in a low-income country: A clinical case study from Zambia. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 8 (2018), pp. 170-175, 10.1016/j.abrep.2018.09.003

Smith, G. (2011, March). Zambia struggles with growing drug menace. BBC News.

  1. Mwape, P. Mweemba, J. Kasonde. Strengthening the health system to enhance mental health in Zambia: A policy brief. International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care, 28 (3) (2012), pp. 294-300, 10.1017/S0266462312000347

Hjördis S. Lorenz, Melissa Davis Stuebing, Chipego Nambeye, Gabriel Lungu, Lauren M. Littlefield, Substance use treatment using cultural arts and 12 steps: Curriculum training and community-led implementation in Zambia, Addictive Behaviors Reports, Volume 15, 2022, 100424, ISSN 2352-8532,

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