Laila Haidari is a rare and bright spark in an often gloomy Afghan landscape of war, poverty and drug addiction. She has created Afghanistan’s first and only self-funding drug rehabilitation center in the nation’s capital Kabul.
Known affectionately as “Mother Camp” to current and past patients alike, the centre can house up to 25 residents at one time, although often treating up to double that, all for the same thing – Opioid addiction.
Afghanistan is the source of over 90% of the world’s heroin supply, accounting for an astronomical $4bn USD per annum. Shockingly, more land is used in the production of opium poppy in Afghanistan than is used in Coca production in Central and South America.
The brutal combination of over 40 years of war and the collective trauma this has had on generations of Afghani’s, combined with their country being the epicentre of global heroin supply means it’s little wonder so many are battling addiction to the drug.
However, the troubled nation is severely under-equipped to cope with the sheer scale of the drug problem they currently face – estimated at around 2.4 – 2.9 million people currently addicted. With only around 115 government-funded treatment centres, it fell to the free market to step up and find a solution.
And step up it did.
Or rather she did. Using her own savings, Laila opened her treatment centre in 2010 after seeing her own brother, an Afghan army soldier, fall to the highly addictive opioid.
“My brother was a very good person and served his country as a soldier in the Afghan Army – I can’t explain how hard it is to watch your loved one spiral into the depth of addiction.” Says Laila.
Stepping Up Despite Barriers
Laila is an unlikely hero, not least because of her past as a successful movie studio making a comfortable salary.
When the drive to take action took hold, she consulted with community elders and found that there was not widespread support for her cause, primarily due to cultural norms which perpetuate a view of the drug-addicted as criminals, not to be helped or even acknowledged. Add to this the deeply-rooted issues of misogyny faced by women in strict Muslim nations such as Afghanistan, and the odds of Laila’s venture taking off did not look promising.
Despite the comforts offered by her job and community pressure, the drive to take action was too great and in 2010 she made the move to lease a small property in poor condition which was furnished through the goodwill of Laila’ friends.
Incredibly, the shelter has now housed over 4000 recovering addicts, and is credited with a high success rate, backed by a concerted effort to follow up with patients once they leave the care of the shelter to ensure they are remaining clean.
A Self-Funding Model of Care
Despite there being a number of government-funded shelters in Kandar and throughout the country, Mother Camp has developed somewhat of a following due to the highly successful treatment program, which has outshone government-funded programs.
The program credits their strong focus on personal care and regular follow-ups with patients with the success rate of their patients.
However, it’s another initiative of Laila’s that is drawing the most attention – the business set up by her purely for the sake of creating a sustainable funding source for the shelter, and it’s teaching valuable life-skills to residents of the shelter too.
The patient-run business initiative, a restaurant, was launched by Laila in 2011 after recognizing the need for a sustainable model of funding to cover the $1,500-$2,000/month costs of running the shelter, which had previously been covered completely out of Ms. Haidari’s own pockets or from donations.
Residents at her clinic are offered opportunities to learn valuable skills such as cooking and customer service at the restaurant, which serve to benefit them in their journey to sobriety beyond the walls of the shelter.
Free Market Solutions
Laila’s work has garnered international attention, and rightfully so, but her answer to the country’s opioid problems actually speak to a wider point:
That the free market steps up and provides where the state can’t or won’t.
It’s a common refrain that “without taxation, how would we ensure people without money receive medical care?”, and yet here, in one of the most war-torn, underdeveloped nations in the world, we see people, markets, not governments, stepping up to find solutions to people problems.
Laila and her team continue to help the poor and drug-addicted in Kabul, not because she must but because she can. They have even managed to grow their restaurant business, eventually moving to a new, larger location in Kabul.