Tahmina International donates 10% of its revenue to non-profit partners in Afghanistan. We believe that business can be a force for good, and there is always more we can give back to the community. We picked New Life Rehab as our first partner and made a donation towards their business program. Through the purchase of our consumers, we were able to help fund knife-making and carpentry equipment for the graduates. The following is an in-depth look at New Life:
Ali, a former drug addict, in the living room of New Life
Guest Contributor: Anna Jung
It's a cold November morning, but the sunlight shining through the windows and the steaming cup of green tea bring warmth into the room where a middle-aged man is sitting. His name is Ali,* and he recently overcame 23 years of drug addiction. As we share tea, a part of Afghan culture that is as essential as conversation itself, Ali begins to share his story.
Ali was born as the oldest son of a poor family. When he was 14 years old, he went to Iran and started working at a stone cutting factory. One day, Ali started having pain in his foot. As an illegal immigrant, he had limited access to healthcare, and the doctor he visited advised him to take opium for his pain. Ali was resistant to taking drugs, but with no other pharmaceutical alternatives, he started to smoke opium.
"Everyone I meet has a brother or sister, or someone who is an addict."
Today, Ali is 45 years old and the father of six children, and his story is quite representative of the growing drug epidemic in Afghanistan. According to the Afghanistan National Drug Use Survey in 2015, approximately 11% of the Afghan population is using drugs. John,* the founder of New Life Rehab, a private drug rehab center in Kabul, thinks this statistic does not even capture the full picture. "I think the statistic is far higher," John says. "I can't prove that, but everyone I meet has a brother or sister, or someone who is an addict." John explained that a state of war and hopelessness combined with cheap and plentiful opium (Afghanistan is the world's top producer) have created the perfect storm for drug addiction.
Like Ali, many Afghans are normal people with everyday lives who fall into opium addiction because of sickness. Adults and even children sometimes use opium as a pain reliever, leading to dependence and addiction. That first usage of opium started a life-long journey of addiction for Ali.
Drug addicts huddled together on the streets of Kabul, a common sight in Afghanistan
Ali continued, "Whenever I smoked opium, my head was clear and I felt stronger." After 15 years of opium addiction, Ali was still working in the factories, and he eventually switched to smoking heroin for 8 more years. Ali was addicted to opioids for 23 years, and throughout his addiction, he tried to quit many times. "I had been to hospitals, private rehab clinics, and even tried quitting at home. Every time I tried to cut the drugs, my body would shake and I would get sick, and I always went back to my addiction," he says.
In response to the drug epidemic, the Afghan government has set up many hospitals and public rehabilitation centers throughout the country. But John explains, "The treatment programs in Afghanistan are 45 days. They have a 99.5% recidivating rate, which is crazy. How do you help someone in 45 days who's been a drug addict like Ali for 23 years?"
Ali was addicted to opioids for 23 years, and throughout his addiction, he tried to quit many times.
After spending time at his last 45-day program at a government clinic, Ali came to New Life. New Life's rehab program is one full year, significantly longer than other public programs. Their program is long because they are focused on real transformation in the lives of its members. "You can physically get off drugs in 45 days, but the mind, values, and heart are still there. It takes at least a year to have a new value system, so our heart is to really mentor and to show a different value system," says John.
Another goal of New Life is to foster deep friendships and develop the community aspect of recovery. "As I talk to guys who've left the 45-day programs, I ask them, 'What's the first thing you do?' They say, 'Well I go back to the bridge, not to get high, but to see my friends.' So we want to have time to develop good relationships, where we don't see them as clients, but we see them as friends and men and brothers."
The knife-making program for graduates
Ali has felt that sense of community: "At New Life, no one looks at you as an addict, but as a friend or family. John works like everyone else. He cleans the bathroom, and washes the dishes, and and doesn't look at me and say, 'you're the worker, you should work.'" Ali is now a staff member at New Life after having graduated its one year program. He proudly tells me he has been clean for one year and eight months, has reunited with his family, and is living a normal life again.
While graduating from the program and overcoming addiction is a huge accomplishment, how men like Ali will live after the program is also a concern. This is why New Life is developing education programs to teach business skills. Currently, they are providing training for carpentry and artisanal knife-making. John explains, "We focus on business because we want this to be self-sustaining and replicable." One long-term goal of New Life is to teach their members business skills so that they can eventually open their own rehab centers in other cities.
"I've been touched by your kindness that you don't treat us like a client or a dog but you treat us like a person."
New Life started two years ago, so they are still a new rehab center. But even in the short time they have opened, more men have started to join the program. One man who recently came from the provinces told John, "The first time I came here I was proud and felt like I didn't need it [rehab], but I've been touched by your kindness that you don't treat us like a client or a dog but you treat us like a person. That's what brought me back."
New Life's carpentry room
As Ali continues to work at New Life, his dream is to help his family and help other addicts. And as the drug epidemic continues in Afghanistan, Ali has daily reminders of his work's purpose.
"On my way home from work, I see other drug addicts on the street. When I see them, my past life of addiction flashes before me like a movie. I remember what that life was like, and I'm reminded of how I must never return. My hope is that those addicts I see on the street would one day be set free."
*names changed or modified for security