Social worker Henk Kempers: ‘I’m not the makamba that knows it all.’
CURACAO – Henk Kempers (50) dealt with drugs in an early stage of life. With help from above, he came free from a heroin addiction that had lasted for years. Right now he provides help for the addicted in Soto. His next step will be to raise awareness for these problems, through the foundation JustGo4It. Today we have the first of two parts of an interview.
Kempers knows, by experience, all about drug abuse en its social consequences. It already starts early. Kempers was really loved by his parents, but ‘it lacked some communication. They never learned to speak up about feelings and emotions. My Mom hasn’t learned to say ‘I love you’ until three years ago. Or sometimes she suddenly calls me and says: ‘I just wanted to hear your voice.’ But every child longs to be confirmed in the love that parents have for their children.’
Kempers attended a technical study, but wasn’t technical himself. ‘My parents wanted me to learn something. But I didn’t care about the subjects. I didn’t want to do it so I didn’t finish it.’
From a young age, he distanced from his parents. When he was twelve, he went to coffee shops to get drugs. ‘You get to stay there, because that’s more interesting than school.’
When he was seventeen, he got busted for dealing heroin, which causes him to stay on sailing ship De Tukker for two years. ‘It was the first time that I got busted, so I could choose an alternative punishment. So I thought: sailing will be nice, but I wasn’t intended to change. Those skippers went to the pub every night and came aboard drunk. By day, they wanted to tell me what drugs and alcohol can do to you. I didn’t listen to it, but I did have a good time. Sometimes my friends came aboard and I made sure that they took ‘something’ with them. I didn’t change.’
‘A year later, I heard voices in my head because of all the drugs. Those voices made me do what I did: using drugs, scamming people, robbing, manipulating, anything. Just anything to get drugs. I created my own world and those voices became my own reality.
At one moment, the addicted one was asked about his feelings and that hit him. Kempers: ‘I was in Hengelo and I walked near the city hall, when someone said to me: ‘Jesus loves you’. Please, go away, I thought. I wanted to walk on and go to some punk place, but it was like I was glued. Something inside me said: ‘You’ve got nothing to lose.’ You see, love was all I wanted. I’d never heard from someone that he loved me.’
The evangelists convinced me to pray with them. Kempers stepped into a car with the people that had approached him. What came next, looked like a scene from The Exorcist.
‘They said: ‘We know that you sell heroin and that you live in the underworld. Could it be that there’s an invisible world? That you, like in The Exorcist, could be a slave of demons?’ I said: ‘I have voices in my head, the psychiatrist gave me pills for that. But those voices didn’t go away.’ We started praying and I asked: ‘Jesus, if You’re really there, can You please take those demons away now?’
It happened promptly. ‘I was touched, it made me feel all warm. An awareness of sin came over me (before that, I’d never heard of that, I wasn’t raised in a Christian family) and it broke me down. A holy Hand touched an unholy heart. After a little while, a voice came out of my mouth, saying: ‘No, we won’t leave this body.’ So the people said to me that I had to make a choice: for the demons, or for Jesus. I said: ‘Get out, in Jesus’ Name’. It took about two hours for them to leave me screaming: ‘We’ve lived here for twenty-six years, we won’t leave!’ But they did. I felt free.’
In the months after that he told about his faith to several addicted and homeless people, and gave them a roof over their head. A few dozens of people had the same experience as Kempers and changed their lifestyles.
Three years after his reverse, he met his wife in church. Kempers started working in Rotterdam with the Salvation Army. Later he started working with missionary organization Youth with a Mission. In 2006 Kempers founded Nieuw Leven (New Life), a certificated addiction clinic. With the help of psychologists and social workers, they’ve provided ambulatory care. Kemper’s job was taken over after a while, because of the clinic’s success. ‘It started to be a higher professional business. But I didn’t graduate, so I quitted.’
‘I don’t follow people, I follow Jesus.’
Kempers and his family came to Curacao in 2009. He was sent by several ecclesiastical agencies of different origin. Religious or not, Kempers doesn’t think of conventions. ‘I don’t want to be placed in a box. I love the church, but I am the church where I am, and not where I’m attending. I have gatherings where I am, and not where I’m going. It may sound silly, but I’m a follower of Jesus. I love people, but I’m not following them.’
In Soto he has a little office now in the Sentro di Bario, where he battles against addictions. He prefers to visit his clients. ‘I help in the field, not in an office. So I sit under a tree, play some chess with these people and I ask questions. You get them to think that way. Yes, it works. I just don’t believe that I can think for someone else. I can’t get to know you if I give all the answers, so I ask questions.
There’s a large banner at the office, but actually, I’m the office. That office needs to be where people are, outside. For many people, the community center is already one step to far, but if you meet people in a natural way – playing football, games, etc. – you start to build a relationship. I don’t want to look like the makamba that knows everything or who has the solution for other people’s problems. Okay, I’m Dutch and that’s how they look at me, but I can try to listen.’
‘I speak Papiamento’, explains Kempers. ‘But not as good as I should. By chance, the people that I’ve been helping, have lived in the Netherlands for a long time, so that’s good. On the other hand, it’s also a disadvantage because now I don’t speak their language so well.
Methods are different from when he was addicted himself. ‘In Holland, they work solution oriented. But over here, no one will let a Dutch person tell them what to do’ Kempers explains about the Dutch pointing finger. ‘And I understand,’ he continues. ‘I’ve never done that myself. I couldn’t handle that solution oriented care, because they don’t let you think for yourself. Perhaps I had difficulties with authority, yeah, but I think it’s important that the person you’re talking to has a chance to tell his own story. Instead of already saying: ‘If you do this or that, you’ll be allright.’
Does he treat ‘all’ addictions? ‘Mechanism of addiction is always the same, but I don’t always treat the people myself. Let’s say someone’s addiction is food, then I’ll send this person to a friend of mine. He’s a dietician. My core business is drugs and alcohol, and unfortunately, there’s more than enough of that.
—— End of part 1
Henk Kempers: ‘Addiction isn’t a disease, it’s an option.’
CURACAO – Henk Kempers (50) dealt with drugs in an early stage of life. With help from above, he came free from a heroin addiction that had lasted for years. Right now he provides help for the addicted in Soto. His next step will be to raise awareness for these problems, through the foundation JustGo4It. Right now, the last of two parts of the interview.
Kempers raises awareness about drug problems through the foundation JustGo4It. The campaign mostly addresses schools. ‘But also in churches, because you’ll find addiction over there too’, says Kempers. He doesn’t just focus on what the addiction does to the addicted person, but also on his environment. That’s why we also have parents- and partner groups. ‘Addiction destroys relationships and generations. That’s why we have to work preventively and let everybody know what drugs does to you, so they won’t start using coke just like Daddy.’
‘I believe that prevention can help in awareness of the problem. How can you recognize it, and care for the involved parties? I’ve had about 35 years of experience with drugs. So yes, I think I have something to offer.’
Kempers provides for addiction care in Soto. In his battle against addiction he uses, among other things, his social skills and his faith. The results are amazing. ‘Someone came up to me who was directed to us by a social worker. He actually didn’t really like Dutch people, but well, he was directed to us.
We started praying with him, and the exact same thing that had happened to me when the demons left me (see part one of this interview), it happened to him. Since then he doesn’t use coke any longer. He couldn’t work because his back was damaged. When we asked Jesus if He could heal it, it happened. That’s three years ago and we became friends. I’ve never been the professional that would help him.
Do people have to be believers before he helps them? Kempers: ‘They need to believe that they have a problem, yeah, but they don’t necessarily have to believe in God. If they understand that they have a problem, then you can help them. Otherwise you’ll spend much time, but eventually they do as they please.
Someone who isn’t motivated, is just doing something. That counts for addiction care as well. Medication that has been prescribed massively, irritates Kempers. When he was a drug user himself, it caused Kempers to hear voices in his head. He got pills for that. ‘Your emotions will flatten, but it only fights the symptom. At that time, it was normal to get ten to twenty milligrams of methadone. In 2014, you can get 200 milligrams. That’s why there’s a generation of zombies right now. In Holland, they don’t try to reach abstinence (living free of addiction in every way). They’ll say: It’s a sickness, it’s in your genes and in your head.’
‘I’ll go for abstinence. What you often see happening, is that people exchange one thing for another. Like, when they quit using coke and you’ll see them every day at the snèk, drinking a beer.’
‘No one is helped with that’, according to Kempers. ‘Addiction is never the problem. Addiction eases the problem so you won’t think of the pain. No one wants that en everyone has his own story. In rehab they break you down, but you get nothing in return. It’s just detoxification. But then it’s just getting started, because that’s when the emotions come.
That addiction is a disease, is not right according to him. ‘You see, everyone has a possibility to become addicted, but it’s not an illness! They’ve been thinking that in my time, and now you come in as a patient. Not as a client.’
The social worker understands why so many medication is prescribed. Kempers: ‘Pharmaceutic industry grows when as many products as possible are distributed. Millions are made, especially by the ‘double-troubles’ (people that are addicted as well as psychiatrically ill). They just wander around on the streets, can’t be treated, they are drugged. They can’t even talk anymore. Many medication is prescribed, but few things are treated. Because of all the medications, all emotions are nearly driven out so there’ll be not much left to treat. So you give up in bringing those people to a process free of addiction.
‘Addiction is never the problem, it just sedates.’
Besides prevention, JustGo4It has more plans for the future. ‘We’re in a process to buy a piece of land, so we can build houses for families to live free of addiction. The problem is that often on this island, there’s not just one family living in a house, but two, or three sometimes. Because of that, everyone gets involved in education. In those cases it can be good to get someone out of his environment. Family can have a bad influence.
I tell him that this last saying is hard in a family culture like the one of Curacao. Kempers doesn’t mean to be rude, he just wants to show the link between the addicted person and his surroundings. ‘You see, if someone is addicted, it has consequences for the whole family. That’s why I focus my work in Soto on families. So I also work with the spouse, if he or she is there, and with the kids, so there’ll be a change in the family of any kind.
Kemper’s most important message is not a religious one: ‘Addiction is not an illness, it’s a choice. You are there yourself. You can’t say that in the Netherlands, they’ll say that addiction is something that happened to you. Addicted people were given pills, methadone, or, if they looked really sad, some coke. That’s why their problems didn’t end. Rates of crime didn’t descend, if it only were true. Research has shown it. Addiction care is messing things up.
Kempers emphasizes making decisions, just like the British writer Theodore Dalrymple in his book ‘Life at the bottom’. But besides choices, aren’t there other risks that influence people in making decisions? ‘That’s a good question. Do you mean that there are thoughtful and thoughtless decisions? So, drinking five glasses of beer happens without you being there? Most people know this, but they don’t want to see it because it’s just nice. You can’t say afterwards that it just happened to you. When something is exciting, are you still aware of what you’re doing? I think you are. Mankind loves excitement, but doesn’t want to bear the consequences.
For more information, you can call us: 6918192. Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. On our website, www.justgo4it.org you can find more information about the foundation itself.