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Rising Number of Heroin Users on Kenya’s Coast


Coast Province in Kenya is known for its natural beauty.

For years, many Europeans have traveled to the area to see its white sands, blue waters and the sails of traditional dhow boats in the sea.

But there is an ugly part of Coast Province: more and more people there are using the illegal drug heroin.

Drug traffickers have been transporting increasing amounts of heroin through East Africa on its way to Europe.

Farah Abubakar Hajji looks like many other 18-year-olds, except for one difference -- he has scar tissue on many parts of his arms and legs. Those wounds resulted from heroin injections. Farah began using the drug when he was 14.

“I decided to inject because my father left and I remained with a single parent, so I had a lot of stress and I decided to inject. So when I inject, I feel very good. My mother is always shouting but when I inject, I feel it’s okay for me.”

Reporter Jill Craig met Farah at the Omari Project in the town of Malindi. The project operates programs to help Kenyans who use illegal drugs to stop using them.

Farah says he left school when he was 12, and sold things to tourists. While Malindi is beautiful, the local economy has been hurting. Because the town depends upon visitors, it suffers when they do not come.

Concerns about attacks by the al-Shabab terrorist group caused Western countries to warn their citizens to avoid the area. Many of the warnings were cancelled last year, but few foreigners have returned.

Like many young people, Farah has a number of jobs. He tries to earn enough money to buy heroin and to support his girlfriend and her baby. His girlfriend also uses drugs.

Fatma Jeneby works in the city of Mombasa at the Muslim Education and Welfare Association, called MEWA. The group operates rehabilitation support groups along Kenya’s coast.

“We’ve seen there is a total change in trend of heroin users, at the age of 15 to 24 years, so this is very alarming to us, because if we, if we are getting drug users at the age of 15 years, meaning that at the age of 10 years, they’ve already started using other drugs so heroin is just a progression of whatever has been there before.”

Heroin is usually not the first drug that locals use. They begin with tobacco, then use marijuana or other drugs. Some drink a locally-made alcohol. Often, they use a combination of these substances.

Jeneby says now more people are chewing mogoka leaves, another stimulant.

“Mogoka it’s the one which is causing very, very [much] havoc within the community, because young, young children are able to, to acquire this drug at a very cheaper rate of around 50 shillings.”

That is about half of one U.S. dollar, and it is available almost everywhere.

Hassan Musa works at the Kenya Red Cross.

“If it hasn’t affected you because this person is your son, it has affected you because he’s your neighbor. He’ll come and steal to you. He’ll come to steal to your house, which means it, it affects you. So you, you, you’re in your house but you’re worried. You don’t want to leave your house because, you know, my neighbor will come and steal. So it has affected you. So, in one way or another, whether we like it or not, it has affected everyone in Coast Province -- everyone.”

Back in Malindi, two Omari outreach workers visit a place where drug users often go to take illegal drugs. Farah is there and injecting heroin.

“Life is not easy for me, because now, I, I feel I’ve messed up my life but I don’t, I don’t know the way out. I just try to find the way out, and mother is very poor. My sister has died, and my mother left with the five children. So there is poverty at home. I’m confused, but I’m not okay with the life I live."

Later, reporter Jill Craig meets Farah a third time when she visits a hospital. The hospital offers a methadone treatment, which helps heroin users reduce their dependency on the drug. Farah had been in the program earlier, but left. He has returned to try to learn how to stop using heroin.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Correspondent Jill Craig reported this story from Kenya. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

stress – n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.

tourist – n. a person who travels to a place for pleasure

rehabilitation – v. to bring (someone or something) back to a normal, healthy condition after an illness, injury, drug problem, etc.

stimulant – n. something (such as a drug) that makes you more active or gives you more energy

havoc – n. a situation in which there is much destruction or confusion

acquire – v. to get (something); to come to own (something)

outreach – n. the activity or process of bringing information or services to people

methadone – n. a drug that people take to help them stop taking heroin

treatment – n. something that deals with a disease, injury, etc., in order to make someone feel better or become healthy again; medical care

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