In this month’s insightful episode, we’re joined by Sana Ullah Rathore, a seasoned professional with over two decades of experience in drug demand reduction and the founder of the Pakistan Youth Organization (PYO). Equipped with a Masters in Sociology and an International Certification of Addiction Professional (ICAP), Rathore has implemented numerous projects with international organizations and leads various trainings on substance use disorder.

During our discussion, we delve into the work of the Pakistan Youth Organization, particularly their successful initiatives towards youth drug prevention and education. Sana shares the challenges they encountered in their early days and how they expanded their outreach to remote areas through a unique mobile unit project.

We talk about the value of collaboration and community support in sustaining these initiatives, as well as the importance of educating the youth and their families about the harms of drugs and providing life skills training.

Sana shares some of their notable achievements in collaborating with international organizations and we talk about the importance of shared knowledge and collective action in drug prevention.

This is a must-listen episode for anyone interested in community-level interventions for drug prevention, the value of education, and the power of a united front against substance abuse.


  1. The start and growth of the Pakistan Youth Organization
  2. The mobile unit project – bringing services to rural areas
  3. The importance of educating the youth and families about the harms of drugs
  4. Collaboration with international organizations for knowledge and resource sharing

Please listen, share, and join us in the global fight against substance abuse.

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Sana: Everyone have a very important role for drug prevention. If we play our role, then we can try to minimize this substance from our beautiful world.

Dave: All right, podcast listeners. I am excited to invite and welcome my friend Sana to the podcast. Welcome.

Sana: Oh, thank you very much, Dave. I would like to introduce myself. my name Sana Ullah Rathore. I am based in gujranwala City, which is a, part of the Pja province of Pakistan. I am. The CEO of Pakistan Youth Organization and I have also expertise, for the rehabilitation of the drug users.

And I am also the working at the of United Nation Office on Drug and Crime, Pakistan and Colombo Plan, global Center for Credentialing and Education based in, Sri Lanka. Basically, I am sociologist and did,my fellowship from Singapore and then one certification from University of Manitoba, Canada regarding the research Now I am, working with the Pakistan Youth Organization since 1990 so this is little bit about my introduction.

Dave: And just from that brief introduction, So much wisdom and so much experience. I’m excited to have a conversation with you to see what we can learn about prevention, and I’d like to learn more about what led you to creating the Pakistan Youth Organization back in 1990.

Sana: Oh, very good question. Thank you Dave. In fact, in 1990 when I was studying in a college, And, some of our classmates are, uh, using the substance or drugs. And then, as a group of students, we decided that, we need to establish some sort of organization so that we can, Create awareness among the students and especially the youth.

So then in 1990, me and some of my other friends established,Pakistan Youth Organization. So in beginning we just start,uh, some sort of prevention activities and we conduct,uh, healthy and, different Activities for the students and the youth of, our city, which is a gujranwala. And then after that, we expand to the other areas of Pakistan.

Dave: You have a lot of programs that you offer, but I’m curious about what wisdom you might offer us when it comes to starting the organization. what were some, challenges or barriers that you, faced?

Sana: Oh, well, they’ve, in fact, in beginning, we faced,different, kind of. Challenges that, at first,some challenges from our friends, which are using this substance and they don’t, want. To, start this kind of program in the educational institutions. And secondly, we don’t have any kind of training.

How we can conduct events for prevention and which kind of information we need to share with our,friends and colleagues and students of the educational institution. So at that time, we don’t have any idea that how we can conduct different kind of, activities and how we can conduct different, activities.

At that time, we don’t have any expertise because we were a student and we just take. Taken that initiative, uh, for establishment of, the P Y O. So first challenges we faced at that time that we don’t have any information uh, about harms of substance. 

Dave: So you and some friend saw a need, saw a problem, you didn’t have the training, you didn’t have resources that you need. You had those, those challenges, but you came together to make a difference. And what were some things that helped you succeed?

Sana: I think at that time I just have an idea in my mind and then I. write different letters to, different, uh, organization like police of our city and different, embassys, like us embassy, Australian AM embassys embassy so that, I can collect different information from these organization.

And, in one event, we invited the superintendent police of our city. So you know that the youth is very enthusiastic and they, share the different things, uh, learning, uh, about the police, in the event. And that time that, police officer, Ask us and challenge the youth organization members.

If I give you the place, can you establish the rehabilitation center in the police line? At that, time that it was the turning point for Pakistan youth organization and the youth of the P Y O and the members of P Y O taken this challenge and we will establish that, rehab center.

And later on he. Asked us to join him in a meeting and he also introduced us about the police line building. And then later on we collaborate with the police and we establish a rehabilitation center in 1994. After four year, we are on track. And, we established the treatment and rehabilitation center in our city in collaboration of the police and, some of facilities, provided by the police and some efforts and volunteer services from the members of Pakistan Youth Organization.

So that was the practical. beginning of the youth organization in 1994, because, you know, the youth is very enthusiastic and our member also collaborate with the police, and that was a very good news for the youth organization that, they’re going to establish a rehab center. Because all of the students, they don’t have resources.

They’re just providing their volunteer services. So that’s why the new era of Pakistan youth organization that they are going to establish a rehab center and that center, we collaborate with them, around five years.

Dave: And that story. Just makes me smile. If I understood correctly, you had the youth involved working with the, the police helping to start the rehab center. 

Sana: Yes, yes, yes. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, when we invite, the police chief in our, one of our event, so then, we starting collaboration with the district police. They provided us the building. They provided the security person and the, volunteer of p y o. Some of our, members are the doctors, some are the social workers, some are the psychologists studying in psychology.

So we, we put our resource together and then start the rehabilitation center.

Dave: What advice would you offer our listeners? When it comes to bringing people together, to collaborating with the police department or other, other folks in your community or their community,

Sana: I think, when we are trying to do something though, then God provide us the different opportunities. So that was one of the opportunity and, After that, the different door opening for us. And, uh, if we talk about, as you asked, our collaboration with the police is very, very effective and mostly whenever the new chief came, they just sit with our team and discuss various things.

If I say our collaboration with the police and experience working with the police is very good Whenever, uh, the new chief came in, the must meet with our team and visit the rehab center and appreciate very much to the volunteers of the youth organization that were very good experience we had with the police.

Dave: any, any tips or strategies for our listeners when it comes to engaging youth?

Sana: Yes. Oh yes. So if, we, talk about the youth, uh, we conduct different, kinds of activities that we are conducting the, healthy recreational activities like we conduct the different, sports events. especially the cricket is, as you know, they very popular in Pakistan.

So we conduct the cricket tournaments, cricket events, quiz competitions, the debate declamation. So we trying to engage these students in different activities. Not only we are,trying to create the, prevention activities or create awareness among the youth. We try to engage them in different kind of activities and during this activities we also trying to provide different kind of information about harms of drugs and different things.

Another strategy which we are using we have a mobile unit and, uh, our team going to providing the prevention activities and awareness to the community, especially the youth. And if someone needs, uh,counseling services. Then they can also providing them. So this kind of activities we are conducting, the prevention activities, we are conducting the recreational activities for youth.

We are providing the life skill training to the youth, like decision making, skills assertion, scale. Communication skills, stress management skills. So there is a lot of, some sort of activities which we are conducting for the youth and trying it to engage the youth in this kind of activities. So that’s why the you are youth are, is interesting to participate in the youth organization activities.

Dave: That is marvelous. So thank you for, for letting me dig deep and ask questions about the, the creation of the Pakistan Youth Organization. And thank you for sharing the, the tips and wisdom. I know many of our listeners. Often see a problem or see a need in their community, but don’t know how to start or where to start.

And you, you have shared so much with us already in this conversation. I’d, I’d like to take a little bit and really dive into the organization. I know you, you, you talked a little bit about the start. And what you did with the police and the rehab center, and briefly touched on some of the activities for the youth, but can we talk about those a little bit more?

What, what all do you have going on within the organization?

Sana: Yes, we have a different, projects. I, would like to share one of our success story. uh, one project we did with the United Nation Habitat, which, headquartered based in Nabi Kenya. That is a one project,we conducted for the youth,

pakistan youth organization and one rehab center. And, we, selected, different, youth, which rehabilitated from that rehabilitation center. And then, we have a evolving for, for loaning. And then we loan to that, rehabilitated person. And we had one MOU with the district government and uh,we have a few stall over there.

We can say the cheap, market over there. They have a different kind of stall. And uh,then after when we provide the loan to that, person, and then we also give them one stall and, uh, where they start their business and, later on they, pay back to the organization and, when they completely pay back the loan, and then they also understand how they run the business, deal with the business enterprises and the how they can deal with the clients are, customers, then they independently, run their business and then we give the loan to the other persons. So this kind of project, went very well and, we collaborated,this project with one of the UN agency. So I think this is one of the success story of the p y o. we have also the different kind of projects, but I, at the moment, I’m just, sharing with one success theory, with you and the listeners.

Dave: that is a very interesting model. You brought, was it three organizations together for that project?

Sana: Yes. Three organizations. That is it. One is the district government of a local government. And, uh, one Pakistan youth organization and one rehabilitation center. So we jointly implemented this, project and the revolving, funds amount, initially provided by the UN agency. And then, we implemented this project.

Dave: And what, in addition to the loans and the, the stalls at the bazaar, do you, do you see any other sort of benefits or impacts with those individuals that have gone through this program?

Sana: Yes, at first. In fact, , their capacity building, training is also the part of that project. So initially, We give them the training and then give them the loan. And after that, they have, I think a big impact on their living because now they are earning money and they have,their own businesses.

 I think after the rehabilitation program, now they have their own business. And, if there is some issue, our, outreach staff was also available for them for guidance or any kind of, problem if they have.

Dave: And as I. I try to, to look at things through one of those individual’s perspectives. I imagine they, they felt a sense of, of support and that you all, the team, you care about them and maybe they have a little bit of hope for their future as well now. .

Sana: Yes, very right said. after that, uh, we made a documentary and then sent to the UN agency what,impact on their lives. As you mentioned, they have a know, different kind of, activities and they are looking to their future. They are, happily living with their, families. And, this is a very, I think it’s a very, very good project that many in the youth members,benefited from this project.

Dave: Yes, I, I think it sounds. Incredible, incredible. could we, could we talk a little bit about the, the orientation programs that you, you have for the youth? if I remember correctly, you, you share some of the harms of drugs and you touched on life skills. Am I correct?

Sana: Yes, yes. I mentioned, as I mentioned earlier, that we have a one prevention program for, youth and educational institution students. So in this program, We provide them the orientation about harms of drugs and meanwhile we also conduct life skills trainings and we provide them the trainings.

About the communication skills, about assertion, about stress management, and, and also very important that, how can they say no to drugs. So because,some of the students don’t know how they want to say no to drugs. Another thing is some, youth members and the students have a myths about the cracks.

Something that make them more energetic, something that it’ll helpful,To make them more studying. So this kind of misconception we are trying to clear in our, prevention campaign, our activities in orientation program. So this kind of information we are providing to youth in this prevention program.

Dave: is this prevention program, is this in schools, colleges, or, or universities?

Sana: this one is mostly about the colleges and universities. some of the schools because in Pakistan, they mostly the problem in colleges and the university is drug issue. uh, now in some schools we also heard that, some, students are using substance. So that’s why I know we also targeting the school population as well and conduct different activities also for the school students as well. But mostly we conducting these activities for colleges and universities students.

Dave: I can begin to understand the, the need for that work, the colleges and universities. When I first started in prevention, I was a police officer at a university, so I, I got to see the impact. So I can, I can, I can understand, The, the mobile units that you mentioned before really sounds wonderful. The, the concept, the idea of taking the support, the materials and counseling to meet the youth where they’re at is rather unique. Could you share with us. How did you, how did you get that started?

Sana: in fact this, uh, mobile unit idea when we have, Some planning about, because in, in city areas, we mostly conduct different activities in the educational institution, but our outreach team not going to far outlying areas in the rural areas. so then, uh, we discuss, within our team, how can, we reach the rural areas.

So that time we plan, uh, mobile unit. And, uh, one thing I want to also share with you this, in beginning, this, mobile unit was,supported by the US embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. When we start this mobile unit, then this mobile unit went in different rural areas.

They provide, the different material to the community, especially, to youth. And, If someone need, the counseling services, then, uh, one counselor is also the part of our outreach team along with the, the outreach workers. One is mobile, unit two is outreach worker and one counselor. They went in different places and, Trying to create awareness, providing the prevention material, provide the counseling service if someone is needed.

So this, unique, uh, services, uh, the Pakistan Youth Organization is providing in Pakistan. So this one is also, I think, a good project of Pakistan youth.

Dave: Absolutely. And it’s maintained and supported by the community members to keep it going. How have you been able to accomplish that? How did you get the community support?

Sana: We started with the support from the US Embassy, but now this going on with the support of community. And if we say we are lucky enough that our community is supporting a lot for conducting this kind of activities. So the community is very supportive. 

Dave: and what have you seen the, the impact of having this mobile unit?

Sana: Yes, I think it is. Uh, Impact is very good because, before this mobile unit in the rural area, that they don’t have,such information about the harms of drugs and the services and myths about the drugs. They don’t, have counseling services. So I think it’s a very, very good impact in, the, especially, in community.

And if we talk about the rural areas. And the, especially if we talk about the youth of rural areas. 

Dave: marvelous. I would love to, to go with and see this mobile unit in action in the community. I, I, I can only picture it being a, a, a beautiful experience to witness. what advice would you give our listeners when it comes to prevention with youth?

Sana: If we especially talk about in Pakistan, the, mostly the people which using substance, their age bracket is from 17, 18 to 36. The majority of the, uh, youth are taking the drugs. that’s why I think, we need to work on youth.

And,if, if,we provide the different, healthy activities or opportunities to youth, then we can save our youth, from the, uh, substance. So that’s why the p y O is, organizing the different kinds of activities, for the youth. And I also want to ask the listener, especially, I want to talk, especially the parents.

Because, uh, the parents also need to work with their, kids. They especially look at their friends, their,classmates, how they can behave with each other and how is their daily routine? So then someone come to know is, uh,their kids are, uh,living their life, in good manner, or they might be going towards this substance.

If they feel their daily routine is changing, then the parents need to look into it. Is there something wrong? And how they can,Look after their child, how they can look, their activities, their daily routines, their sleeping pattern, how they are,doing in their studies. So this kind of, things I think if parents and other, uh,significant other, close watch on their daily routine and activities as well.

Dave: I agree. The more parents can be present and be aware and then have conversations with the youth, they can have a big impact. I agree. When, when you’re sharing about the start of the Pakistan Youth Organization, you mentioned that you didn’t have the knowledge, the training. You’ve grown so, so much over the years.

Where have been some of the, the places or the key partners that have helped you learn how to do prevention?

Sana: Yes, in beginning, uh, police force. Pakistan helped us a lot for the different trainings. They also provide, me opportunity to attend the international trainings. they also send me to the Singapore. And, uh, I have also opportunity to attend the different, prevention, training and treatment training in different countries more than, uh, 20 countries.

I have been visited and participate in different, international conferences and training program I am also the, one of the trainer of, the United Nation of, drug and crime and Colombo plan, drug advisory program. So I, I think, we are lucky enough, we have a good collaboration with the, Pakistan government and then the other international organization as well.

So that’s why, we started from, a local community. Then we went to the national and then we part of the international community. 

Dave: And my summary of that for our listeners would be, Get engaged, ask questions in prevention. We are all in this together. Sana, you said you have, you’ve been to over 20 countries to, to build your prevention knowledge. And listeners, you can do just the same. Reach out to us. Reach out to folks from our past episodes.

Ask questions. We’re all here to support each other because prevention is better together.

Sana: All right. Right, Dave, I agree. Fully agree with you.

Dave: Before we, we close out this inspiring conversation, I’d like to just pause and invite you to share anything that we may have not covered that you’d like to share with our listeners.

Sana: Yes. I, uh, also want to sum of our success in different areas that, Pakistan Youth Organization did different projects with the, UN agencies, like I already mentioned, that inhabited UN odc, US Embassy, embassy Colombo Plan, government of Pakistan and other, many organizations. That is, I think that is a.

very good experience for us that we collaborate with different organization. 

We presented papers in different, international conferences, and now we are also working on the policy making and advocacy the p y o also hosting a side event on a of, commission on drug session. We are collaborating this event with the Vienna NGO Committee, so Pakistan Youth Organization and working group of, Asia Pacific region NGOs, and Vienna N Geo Committee, also collaborating with us in DC. So this is his, summary of,organization working.

And I also let. To know you and our listener, that, one organization, which, Started from a town and then, now we are,have the opportunity to interact with the international community. And now we are also trying to share our knowledge and expertise to the international community. And we also, collaborate with the international community for the, the drug prevention movement.

And, as you mentioned that, now we are collaborating with international community for drug prevention. So this is a summary from our organization Activity.

Dave: Very admirable and very inspiring. For, for my last question, what would be sort of your final call to action for our listeners, or one final piece of advice that you don’t want our listeners to forget?

Sana: uh, this is a very important question. Uh I think everyone need to play his or her role for drug prevention might be he aware what, what is, uh, his colleagues, his friends is doing, how can, they prevent them, from substance or if we talk about the community, I think the community role is very, also very important.

We need to work together and trying to provide the different, information to our community about harms of drugs. How they say no to drugs? And, this is very important that everyone know about the harms of drugs. Everyone know these skills of no. So everyone have a very important role for prevention of, uh, substance or drugs because no single person can prevent whole world.

Everyone have a very important role for drug prevention. If we play our role, then we can try to minimize this substance from our beautiful world.

Dave: And that was beautiful. Such beautiful wisdom. I wanna thank you for, for taking time to speak with me and share your wisdom and thank you for doing the work you are doing to make this world a better place. It’s been an honor and I look forward to many more conversations and collaborations with you.

Sana: So thank you very much. Uh,Dave, you have provided me opportunity to share our, experience, with the listeners. this is also one of the opportunity which you provided me, that, we share our work with the listeners of the global community. So this is a very, very good opportunity for p y o that share our experience with all our, our global community.