My name is Teresia. I am a social mobiliser at the Omari project in Malindi, Kenya. We work on harm reduction for people who use drugs. In 2013, I made a four-day trip to Pakistan together with people from three partner organisations in Kenya. This was an exchange visit under the Bridging the Gaps programme, organised by the Pakistani organisation Nai Zindagi and Mainline. What I found most impressive about my trip to Pakistan was a visit to the household of a woman who got HIV through her husband, who injects heroin. We heard the woman’s story. Her mother-in-law was also there, and she made a huge impression on me. This old, but extremely strong lady obviously felt very guilty that her son gave the virus to his wife. She has major concerns about her two grandchildren and does everything in her power to ensure they will have a safe future. In a way, this family is lucky. Because they have the means to support the children and a very strong support network. And they love each other. However, it was striking that the old woman did not understand at all how her daughter-in-law got HIV. In Pakistan, HIV is mainly connected to drug use; it is not a generalised epidemic like it is in Kenya.
God wants us to give people who use drugs a chance and include them, not isolate them
From my visit to Pakistan I took home some very useful knowledge. The organisation Nai Zindagi works on HIV prevention and treatment for people who use drugs, also focusing on their spouses, intimate partners, and children. In Kenya, I will definitely involve the family members of people who use drugs in my work, and provide them with psychosocial support. I find this a strong element of the work in Pakistan. Moreover, Nai Zindagi uses a practical reporting document for social mobilisers. The importance of data registration and analysis became very clear to me. But I have also left something behind from my Kenyan experiences. In Kenya, we offer an HIV test to all community members. And we connect family therapy and addiction counselling to our harm reduction services.
During my trip to Pakistan, I particularly enjoyed the discussions about integrating harm reduction as a mindset in your organisation. This is not always easy, especially in countries like Pakistan and Kenya, where religion plays such an important role. Here, drugs are considered wrong, and distributing clean needles and syringes is sometimes seen as stimulating drug use. In these countries, many people find everything related to drug use ‘haram’: sinful. You could call this ‘haram reduction’ – they want to reduce everything that they find abominable and unclean. In my opinion, we should advocate to change this. People who use drugs are members of our communities. And I am sure God wants us to give them a chance and include them, not isolate them. Following this principle is for me the only way to peace, security and development.