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Reaching out to South Asian community

After a decade of teaching youth-at-risk in an alternative school in Coquitlam, Richmond's Rupi Gill decided to go back to school herself. "I taught at the Coquitlam Alternative Basic Education (C.A.B.E.

After a decade of teaching youth-at-risk in an alternative school in Coquitlam, Richmond's Rupi Gill decided to go back to school herself.

"I taught at the Coquitlam Alternative Basic Education (C.A.B.E.), a school of about 200 students," said the longtime Richmond resident. "I found out that I was more interested in prevention and counseling than teaching."

In 2009, Gill went back to UBC and is nearing the end of her master's degree in counseling psychology.

Three months ago, as part of her practicum, Gill took on a pilot project at Richmond Addiction Services. "I'm dealing primarily with youth who are drug or alcohol users, as well as their parents and sisters," said the 33-year-old mother of one with another child on the way.

Richard Dubras, executive director of Richmond Addiction Services, is in charge of the pilot project.

"Rupi is offering short term clinical counseling and support to the Richmond community who might be impacted by substance use and or the Internet and gaming during the summer," said Dubras. "This program reaches out to the South Asian community, who speak English and Punjabi.

"This is a new service that we know is in need as the community has communicated this need to the Health Authority through the Health Advisory Council."

Gill is working with six regular clients, all referred to her either through school officials, family doctors or hospitals. "I really enjoy working one-on-one with people," said Gill. "I like connecting with another and building a trusting relationship."

Gill believes part of the disconnection, which occurs between immigrant parents and youth, has to do with how busy parents are.

"As new immigrants, oftentimes it involves taking on lower-paying jobs, which means they are working longer hours," she said. "I encourage South Asian parents to ask their children questions about their lives and to get as involved as possible, at the school and at their sports activities."

Gill added that she is also available to refer parents and clients to all sorts of local services, especially ones dedicated to new immigrants.

The McNair secondary graduate says South Asian families don't typically seek out RAS's help. As a child whose parents immigrated from India, Gill said she understands the unwillingness to come forward and say, "we need help."

"I believe there is a language and a cultural barrier," she said. "Also, there is perceived shame and stigma in coming forward, and there is not a well established history of South Asian seeking help."

She added: "Many new immigrant families don't know how to navigate the school system or know about the many services available to them ... I can help with that."

Gill actually tried to start a girls' group at Cambie secondary to talk about drugs and alcohol, but again, she was stymied.

"No one came," Gill said.

However, after much discussion between themselves, the team of counselors and staff at RAS believe their best recourse is to head over to local mosques and temples and hand out pamphlets showcasing all the services available to the South Asian community.

"We will also set up a table where people can come and talk to us," she added. "I encourage parents to come in and talk to me. Although I can't discuss what their child says to me, I can offer them information. I can refer them to local resources and find whatever support they need."

Dubras stressed that RAS provides many other services the public might not be aware of. "We are available to do outreach counseling, family work and even provide education about substance use and misuse, Internet, and gaming addictions," he added.

For more information about Richmond Addiction Services, call 604-270-9220 or visit If you are South Asian and affected by substance use or misuse, call Gill at 604-270-9220 ext. 109, or email

RAS has also put together a helpful four-page parent package, which deals with issues such as signs to look out for and what to what to do when you discover your loved one is using. Download a copy at


Everything and everybody slowly becomes less important as drugs become more central to the person's life

- More time spent behind locked doors

- School/job ability goes down

- Anger, mood swings and irritability

- Increasingly poor hygiene

- Lying becomes normal and they become defensive

- Need money

Physical Symptoms:

- Marijuana: red eyes, smell

- Cocaine: change in sleep patterns, depression, paranoia, pressured speech, euphoria, extroversion, weight loss, dilated pupils

- Heroin: nodding, detached, flu-like symptoms, pinpoint pupils, scratching, sniffing, small sores, jitters

- Alcohol: staggering, smell

Richmond Addiction Services

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