How one man used the 12 step approach to change the way people look at recovery on the island.
The Muslim island of Zanzibar is located in the Indian Ocean and is part of the nation of Tanzania. The island is also at a key location for the heroin trade that travels between Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe.
Those who live on Zanzibar know that heroin is cheap on the island and that a large percentage of the population there are struggling with addiction.
Suleiman Mauly grew up on the island and was in a continual battle with a heroin addiction that had started at age 17 when he joined a 12 step group in nearby Kenya. Mauly had made a few previous attempts at kicking heroin and had been unsuccessful. Joining the 12 step group finally helped the young man find a path into recovery and to stay on it.
He was able to stop using heroin and make amends to family and other loved ones whose relationships had been damaged by his addiction. Developing a relationship with a higher power also was a great help to Mauly.
Although he came from a Muslim country, Mauly was still able to use the concept of a higher power to gain a healthy perspective and incorporate spirituality into his recovery.
Mauly's recovery story is interesting considering that the 12 step program, which began in Akron, Ohio almost 80 years ago, is based on Christian ideas. Confession (or making amends), a chance at redemption, and turning yourself over to a higher power are all touchstones of the Christian faith.
For Mauly and many non Christians who join 12 step groups, the concept of a higher power can be adapted to the individual. For Mauly it was his family and the 12 step group itself.
Others may choose to make their higher power the god from their own religion, nature, or anything in their life that they know is bigger than themselves.
After Mauly returned from Kenya he decided to bring the 12 step approach to recovery to his homeland. Despite the success of the program in Zanzibar, there is still a lot of suspicion toward its Christian elements.
Mauly currently has 11 operating recovery houses on the island that have helped nearly 3,000 addicts since they first opened their doors. The houses are also staffed by former addicts who help out with all the daily operations needed to keep them running.
His next goal is to help female addicts in Zanzibar. That goal may not be so easy, as attitudes toward women who are addicts (and who end up committing crimes like prostitution to support their habit) are vastly different and it's been difficult for Mauly to gain support from the community.
The Muslim view of these women is that they do not deserve redemption, no matter what. Mauly wants to change how women who abuse drugs are perceived on the island. He has already taken funds from one of the existing houses to start a recovery house for women.
Mauly believes that every addict deserves a chance at being saved and starting their life over. The success of the recovery houses has already helped change the way the people of Zanzibar look at addiction.
Instead of being a crime, the people have seen that addiction is a disease that can be treated with the right kind of approach. The addicts are seen as people who need help, rather than just criminals out to do harm to themselves and others.
photo credit: Frederica Boswell via www.npr.org