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Transformation emerged in a grass roots way. Mark Berry was teaching English in Vientiane, Laos and became aware of a severe problem that was plaguing Lao society in the early 2000’s: amphetamine addiction.
His first personal exposure was through their maid. She confided that her son was addicted to Yaa Baa (Crazy drug, meth-amphetamine) and she didn’t know what to do. The Berry's decided to try to help by having her son, stay at their house. They thought, that way, they could help him get off the drugs. It didn’t work very well – he left after several days. Then a friend of the Berry's who knew a Lao man whose son was addicted, referred him to Mark. He sent their son to a rehab center in Northern Thailand. That was a bigger help but when he came back , he relapsed. Mark ended up sending several others to Thailand, but realized they were not ready to return home. Upon return from Thailand, the Berrys ended up having about 5 of that group stay in the basement of their house so they could have close supervision in a live-in situation.
BEGINNINGS: TRANSFORMATION HOUSE
That was only a temporary fix. Not long after doing that, the Berry's opened up Transformation House. They rented a cheap Lao house that was in need of a lot of renovation itself, since the previous tenant was a drug dealer and trashed the place. The village leader, (Nai Baan), miraculously gave Transformation permission to open a drug rehab facility in Phontong Village. It was extraordinary because Lao society would ordinarily never allow criminals (That’s the way the Lao thought of them.) to live in their midst. We think otherwise: all people have priceless worth. We also believe that people are healed and transformed in community, so that’s what we endeavored to provide. By opening Transformation House our rehabilitation program was unofficially able to get off the ground in 2006.
After about three years of operating Transformation House with spotty results and by learning things the hard way, the Transformation leadership team was determined to seek a way to fulfill their vision by opening a rehabilitation center and turning TH into a half-way house. They were tired of the dysfunction of recovering addicts on different levels living in a house in the city where a lot of temptation was close at hand.
Transformation used the government rehabilitation center, Somsagna (SS), as a detox center and deterrent, sending some of the intransigent addicts referred to them there. In January of 2009 Transformation had 5 prospects in SS waiting to enter its program. Instead of perpetuating the dysfunction of the old system, Transformation’s leadership team sought a way to open Transformation Center so it could receive the 5 individuals when they got out of SS instead of going to Transformation House.
THE MEN'S CENTER
An amazing breakthrough occurred when Transformation was able to procure a 4 acre piece of land, build it out and receive the 5 individuals from SS in a three month span of time from January to March. It was so encouraging because this was a clear answer to prayer and was impossible naturally speaking, since Transformation did not have money to purchase the property nor build the dormitory to house the new students in January. Nevertheless , in March of 2009 Transformation Center opened its doors and Transformation House transitioned to a second tier, half-way house facility.
All along Transformation only had informal approval on the village level for its facilities but it had the assurance from Nasaithong, the district where their center was located, that it would help Transformation receive official government approval. Transformation leadership thought they were close to the application for Lao government approval being stamped when they found out to their dismay that the Lao authorities denied their application and shut down their Men’s center in Nasorn Village. They were able to leave their staff there to maintain the facility, but the deputy district governor told them that they had better find other jobs, implying that our center would never receive approval to open again. They were dismayed; their dreams were shattered; they didn’t know what to do. That was in 2013. Transformation Center had been operating for four years. For two years from 2013 to 2015 the center was closed .
Transformation leadership was disillusioned but still had faith that what they started would be completed, that their vision would become a reality in spite of this major setback. Death to a vision precedes its resurrection! Finally, on Christmas Day of 2015, their dream became a reality when written approval, stamped and signed, by the Department of Drug Control in the Prefecture of Vientiane was delivered to Mark Berry and Sivixay Phomphaksivanh. Transformation Recovery and Vocational Training Center was birthed. It was official, receiving legal status, the first on this level for any private rehab in Laos!
TRANSFORMATION WOMEN AND CHILDREN'S CENTER
There is more good news: early 2019, building was begun for Transformation Women and Children’s Center in Oudomphone Village. The W&C Center building project was completed at the end of May 2019. We are also considering opening a center in Borikhamxai Province, just south of Vientiane. Other exciting developments that are occurring as I write are the initiatives by Lao young men: one, Tone, is opening a second tier facility about 20 miles outside of Vientiane to apprentice and employ recovering drug addicts. The other one is Tom who has a vision to have a rehabilitation center in Champasak Province near the recent flooding in Laos. Each of the young men have a vision to make these enterprises self-sustaining. We are also considering opening a center in Borikhamxai Province, just south of Vientiane.
WHERE WE ARE TODAY
We have 16 beds in our Men’s Center in Nasorn Village in the prefecture of Vientiane with 13 students in residence at this time. The age range at our Men’s center is about 15-33 years old. Our Women and Children’s Center has 6 young women and 1 baby boy at that facility. It has a capacity of twenty women and children. Our halfway house has 2 married couples, 4 single men and 4 children. There is a total of 51 people living in our 3 facilities.
Our program is Lao run with a Teen Challenge Board of Directors. Sivixay and Ting are the directors of the Men’s center. Yong and Chantorn direct the Women’s Center and To is the halfway house leader. Boonmee and Kham are the program directors at the men’s center. Somboon and Vieng are the Program Directors at the Women and Children’s Center.
Mark Berry is the Executive Director of Teen Challenge, Laos and adviser to Transformation Recovery and Vocational Training Center in Laos.