Page last updated at 00:47 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 01:47 UK

Zanzibaris kicking the heroin habit

By Frederica Boswell
BBC News, Zanzibar

Narcotics Anonymous football team
The former addicts now score on the football field

On the dazzling white sands of a Zanzibar beach, a team of footballers is ecstatic, despite losing 5-3.

The Muamko Recovery Team are all former heroin addicts and this was their first match in years.

"Did you ever imagine junkies playing football?" Rashid Yunus asks from the sidelines.

He has been in recovery for less than a month and so can't put his body through the rigours that the match requires.

Heroin addiction is a growing problem in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago which is part of Tanzania.

According to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, around 7% of the population smoke or inject the drug.

People even suggest that every family on the islands contains at least one heroin addict.

I have learned a lot about how to stay clean... It is hard to quit drugs
Rashid Yunus

The drug first arrived from Pakistan in the mid-1980s after the Zanzibari government opened the door to tourism and trade.

"From the beginning, people don't know about brown sugar - heroin - so at the beginning, Zanzibar was a corridor," says Dr Mahmoud Mussa, of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

It has become a key transit point on the route from the opium-growing areas of Afghanistan and the main markets in the West.

But the drug has also spilled out to affect the local population.

So much so that there are insufficient detoxification and rehabilitation facilities to help Zanzibari addicts get clean.


A group of recovering heroin users has set up their own support network.

Their group runs meetings at the Drug Recovery Support Centre and also a sober house - a residential option for those attending meetings.

Suleiman Mauly
Suleiman Mauly celebrates three years clean

Their peer-to-peer support programme is based on the "Twelve Steps", a treatment scheme used around the world by Narcotics Anonymous.

Many of the addicts fund themselves through their programme - it costs about $2 per day to stay in the sober house.

The programme is also supported by the Detroit Recovery Project and backed by the Zanzibari government.

Open for less than a year, it is driven by Suleiman Mauly who quit heroin three years ago after attending a rehab programme in the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

He believes that, despite not having proper detoxification or drug replacement therapies in Zanzibar, the support that they all give each other is enough to quit.

"We work together," Mr Mauly explains.

"Sometimes someone might feel like he doesn't want to go on, so the meetings help him to get stronger.

"Even myself, I have to do these things because sometimes I feel temptation.

"So when I try to help them, they help me as well."

Working together

Mr Yunus himself has tried many times to stop using heroin, but after Mr Mauly welcomed him to the meetings, he feels positive that he might succeed this time.

"I have learned a lot about how to stay clean. It is hard to quit drugs.

"I have tried and tried by myself. I couldn't make it because I was overconfident, and I thought I could control it, but I cannot control drugs.

Kauthar Hamyar
It took six months for my body to be normal
Kauthar Hamyar, Former addict

"So this time, pray to Allah, I am trying my best to stay clean."

Religion plays its part in helping people in Zanzibar to quit using heroin.

One of the steps calls for making a decision to hand your life over to the care of God as you understand Him, and many of those in recovery draw strength from this.

Kauthar Hamyar is a mother in her forties. She started using heroin at 17 after a friend introduced her to it at the disco.

After 12 years of injecting, she quit by herself without the help of a rehabilitation programme.

"It took six months for my body to be normal," she says.

"For six months I was sick and I didn't take medicine.

"I just stayed at home with no counselling, except for my mother who was always telling me about religious words. I started to pray."

Ms Hamyar successfully quit heroin and has never relapsed, but she is very upset that her first-born son has now started smoking marijuana despite knowing her own story.

"He knows everything about me, and every day I try to tell him to finish school first, because I wasted my time for nothing," she says.

"But all of his friends use marijuana, because it is very easy to get those drugs here."

Slippery slope

Many of the testimonies in the group meetings point to the fact that marijuana use leads to heroin abuse.

At less than $1 for a hit of heroin, it is relatively cheap and easily accessible.

Narcotics Anonymous group meeting, Zanzibar
The addicts had no choice but to form their own group

Mr Mauly started smoking cigarettes at age 13 and moved on to marijuana at 15.

Curiosity and ignorance led him to try heroin, and he didn't believe that addiction is a disease.

"I thought it only needed smart people to be able to quit, and I thought I was the one."

Eleven years after that first hit, Mr Mauly speaks honestly of the depths that he plunged for his addiction, the relationships he damaged, and how difficult he found it to get clean.

He is now putting all his energy into running the recovery programme and doing outreach work to help others join their meetings and get help.

After the football match, as everyone tucks into goat pilau and soft drinks, Mr Mauly expresses how much it means to them to be playing as a team within the community.

"We are so happy, even if we lost, to come together and play football because it has been a long time since most of us were on a football pitch," he explains.

"We want to show that it is a very good thing to be in recovery, and to accept who you are."

To hear more from the Zanzibar addicts' recovery group, listen to African Perspective on the BBC World Service.The programme is first broadcast on Saturday 4 July at 1106 GMT. It will be available online from 2106 GMT, for one week.

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