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Zanzibar Tries to Kick Heroin Habit

Communities on the Tanzanian island break cultural ground with addict-run sober houses.


Zanzibar's approach is innovative in
East Africa. Photo via

By May Wilkerson


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Unknown to the hordes of foreign tourists who flock to its idyllic beaches, the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar has been ravaged by heroin imported from Asia. But now groups of recovering addicts there have joined together to help fellow addicts get clean at self-regulated "sober houses." The program was started by Suleiman Mauly, who spent four years living and using on the streets and has been clean for six years. The $100-a-month sober houses provide a cheap alternative to rehab and a safe haven from the drug-addled streets and unforgiving law enforcement. The idea that addiction is a health issue, not a criminal one, is novel in Tanzania, as is the sober house model: “It’s a new phenomenon in East Africa, whereby drug addicts take responsibility to run the system" says Mauly. "Recovering addicts are in charge, from the guard, the kitchen, running sessions, everything." Activities on offer at the houses include yoga, acupuncture and art therapy, empowering addicts to reclaim their lives, and to help themselves and others. "For someone who is doing the 12-step program, and then you give him another responsibility, he feels high self-esteem because he’s not nothing," says Mauly. "You are someone."

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