Laila Haidari is considered a criminal, despite never committing a crime. The 40-year-old works with drug addicts in Kabul. “The addicts I work with are considered criminal and dangerous and by extension I am considered criminal,” she says.
Despite opposition and death threats, eight years ago, Haidari opened the city’s only private drug rehabilitation centre, which so far has helped nearly 4,800 Afghans who would otherwise have ended up on the streets, or worse, dead.
She opened the centre, called the Mother Camp, after watching her brother fall into addiction. “I cared for my brother and helped him recover, even if it was briefly, because I believe that he deserved to be saved. He was a good man,” she says. Each of the addicts who pass through her shelter are good people who’ve gone astray, she adds, and they deserve a second chance.
Afghanistan’s drug problem is not a secret. The country is the world’s largest producer of opium. In November 2017, the UN reported that opium production had increased by 87% over the previous 12 months to a record high, despite almost two decades of counter efforts by the US.
According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction(Sigar), since 2001 the US has spent $8.6bn on disrupting the illicit drugs trade, yet the country still produces about 80% of the world’s opium.Get Society Weekly: our newsletter for public service professionals
Afghans remain among the worst victims of the failed war on drugs. According to the 2015 Afghanistan national drug use survey, in a country of 35 million people, an estimated 2.9 million are addicts. But there aren’t enough government-run shelters to meet the growing needs. Kabul has 27 government shelters and there are about 115 across Afghanistan – all of which are over capacity.
Mother Camp, named by the first drug addicts Haidari took in, was established in 2010. “I used to look after them, clean them, cook for them and sometimes even feed the weaker ones. That is when they started to call me ‘mother’,” she explains.
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