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DREAMS Helps One Couple Find a Brighter Future

May 27, 2020

Mohammed Said is not hesitant to talk about his past as a drug addict and trafficker. Soft spoken and articulate, he cheerfully smiles as he narrates his recovery journey and how he met Rehema, the girl of his dreams.

Now 36, Mohammed was only 14 when he was introduced to a life of smuggling and dealing drugs. It was a dream come true when his parents agreed to let him travel outside the country to visit his uncle who lived in South Africa. Growing up, Mohammed had always pictured the day he would go to visit the rich uncle who was always sending them gifts. The long-awaited day came, he left his parents in Tanga and embarked on his journey. “I was excited, imagining all the fun I was going to have, I would have so much to tell my friends when I got back home, they would be jealous,” he says reflectively.

 “I was ready for a new life, a vacation away from home, and if I behaved well, my parents had agreed that I could live with my uncle and finish my studies in South Africa” adds Mohammed. Little did he know what was in store for him. No sooner had he settled in at his uncle’s home than was introduced to the illegal drug business, and he was soon peddling drugs in the streets of South Africa. Mohammed’s uncle and other relatives in South Africa had been in the drug business for a long time. 

The New Normal 

Surrounded by heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, smoking weed, getting “stoned,” and easy money became his new routine. “This was the life - I dressed to kill, was always dope, I was their hook-up guy,” added Mohammed. Within a few months, he started traveling the world, trafficking drugs to South Africa, Maputo-Mozambique, Swaziland, and Brazil. Trafficking brought in money and provided the high-flying lifestyle he had dreamed of as a child; he was carrying millions of cash in different currencies. “The drugs did not just provide income, but a new-found friend – always available to comfort me when I was stressed and lonely. The drugs made me get acquainted with wealthy people,” he recalls.

Mohammed was arrested at the age of 15 and imprisoned for drug trafficking, his first experience behind bars. It was terrifying - a bad break for a boy his age. But before long, he was back in the streets and it was business as usual; serving time became his new normal. “I was always stoned. I did not worry about being caught; carrying the rolled-up heroin bullets in my stomach was not scary,” said Mohammed. “I got arrested several times; I served time in South Africa, Swaziland, and Brazil. The heroin made me see the world, travel the world, but the same heroine made me so empty inside.”

When he was 18; his uncle, his “godfather,” the “business anchor,” was sentenced to 18 years in prison, and dealing became even tougher and riskier. With quick access to cash, he was able to return to South Africa even after being deported home to Tanzania twice. After the third deportation even after being deported back to Tanzania three times. In 2013, after the third deportation, he decided to settle in Mbeya with a relative.

The Silver Lining

While in Mbeya he met Rehema - a sex worker at one of the drinking spots he frequented. After a few visits to the place they became close friends and later started dating. “It was love at first sight,” admits Rehema. “He was high, drunk and unkempt, but I saw a different person underneath all that; he was humble, kind and smart too,” added a smiling Rehema.
Rehema Nyanza was no stranger to hardship either. The 23-year-old young mother started engaging in transactional sex at the age of 13 to be able to pay for her school. She enrolled in the WRP-T, PEPFAR, and Belinda Gates-funded DREAMS initiative in January 2017 and is now a peer educator.

After enrollment into the program, she received the core DREAMS package, including entrepreneurship skill training, and is now ready to make and sell soap, hand wash, and leather sandals, earning an average of 250,000 Tanzania Shillings a month. She has quit sex work and works in the community providing HIV prevention education.

In 2017, after days and weeks of convincing, Rehema talked Mohammed into enrolling in the “Mwanaume Jitambue,” a men’s initiative providing HIV /AIDS prevention education that initiative focuses on the sexual partners of adolescent girls and young women enrolled in the DREAMS program. As part of the program, he was also offered income-generating projects and entrepreneurship skill training, as well as adherence counseling for retention in services.

It is almost three years since Mohammed started on his journey to recovery. In July 2017, he enrolled in the Mbeya Referral Hospital Methadone Clinic, where he receives counseling and gets his methadone every day. He has also been appointed to be an ambassador for people who inject drugs (PWIDs)s in Mbeya and uses his experience to increase awareness among other youth.
Grateful for the methadone, which has helped him recover, Mohammed explains, “the trauma and pain one goes through when you no longer have access to the drugs is unexplainable; it’s a fiery and excruciating pain that breaks down all the joints of the body.” 

His health has improved, his skin glows, and he is now fiercely committed to making a positive change in the community. Rehema and Mohammed are each other’s support system – helping each other stay away from risk behaviors. Planning to get married later this year, they are both happy that through the DREAMS program, they can earn an income, become better people, and impact others in a meaningful way. 

“We are very lucky to have found a brighter future together. It is through the DREAMS program that our dreams have come true,” humbly adds Mohammed.

Written by Rachael Singo