Hassan's Story 

 

 "WAAAA!" the baby cried as he came into this world. His mother looked at him with pride, hoping this newborn son would be the source of her acceptance into her husband's family.
Naseera was the second wife of Jamal, renowned for her beauty and several years his junior. It had been 10 months since her marriage and right from the start she had been treated like a pariah by Jamal's first wife and grown up sons.

Jamal walked into the room after an hour, picked up the newborn and said, "He shall be named Hassan!" Naseera looked at him expectantly, hoping for some sign of love or appreciation, but found none. She sighed, and cried silent tears when she realised things were not going to change.

Hassan grew up in the shadow of his stepbrothers and stepmother. He was a happy healthy boy, except for the times when he would find his mother being belittled by his stepfamily. Things improved for them when his stepbrothers decided to pack up and try to learn their living abroad. Afghanistan, in those days, was a country recovering from a decade of war, and where still killing, internal fighting and looting were rampant. For these reasons, Hassan’s fathers’ business of smuggling Russian goods across the border to Pakistan was not doing very well.

Hassan used to help his father in his shop after school. After a few weeks, a small amount of money (equivalent of a penny) went missing. Jamal blamed Hassan for this and gave him a severe beating. In his rebellion, Hassan ran away from home. He went to one of his father's customers, and asked him for money owing from the sale of a few TVs. He received 1 million afghanis (equivalent to £80-£90). With that money, he crossed over the border into neighbouring Pakistan and decided to try to make it on his own.

In Pakistan, he took up residence with some afghan boys, and under their influence, started smoking hash. These boys were a part of a group, the leader of which was a twenty-something older boy, called Masood. For the first time, Hassan came face to face with the bitter realities of living on the streets. Masood, having influence in the area, promised to protect these boys from other people, but himself abused and exploited them. Being only 11 at the time and not knowing better, Hassan went along with it.

Money soon started running out for Hassan, and he decided to make a small business of selling fruit. This however wasn't enough to cover his expenses and so he resorted to pick pocketing.

One day, Hassan had a fight with the group leader, Masood. He couldn’t live in the same area anymore, and moved to another part of town. Trying to build a life for himself once again, he came under the influence of a pick pocketing gang, the leader of which was a man called Javed. Javed took him under his wing, again having influence on the streets. As with Masood, he also felt it was his right to do whatever he pleased with Hassan. So Hassan was again subject to sexual and mental abuse from his protector. Hassan was trained extensively to pick pocket and soon became Javed's best recruit.

During this time, Hassan continued to meet and smoke hash with his friends from the other part of town. One day on his own, he found he wasn't feeling satisfied with the hash he was smoking. He was also sweating profusely, his eyes were watering and he was shivering. He couldn't understand what was wrong. He went to look for his friends and not being able to find them, asked around in the shops after them. One of the shopkeepers asked him what the matter was Hassan told him he wanted to find out where his friends purchased their hash from because what he had bought himself didn't seem to be working. The shopkeeper, looking at his symptoms recognized them as withdrawal symptoms related to heroin. He informed Hassan of this but Hassan became very offended and said he had never taken heroin in his life. Nevertheless, the shopkeeper convinced him to try a small amount to see if it made him feel better. Hassan did so, and strangely, found he felt well once again. He could not fathom why his body would react so, but could not shake off the sinking feeling in his stomach.

The next day he found his friends and told them what he had experienced the day before. After some hesitation, they told him that Masood, the gang leader, after his fight with Hassan, had ordered them to ….. start mixing heroin into his hash. Hassan could not believe it. He had been smoking heroin all this time.  He felt sick to his stomach and started to throw up. He realised….HE WAS ADDICTED. TO. HEROIN. Not knowing what he was doing, he took out his knife and stabbed one of the boys. He ran home in a blind daze, sobbing.

The next few days and weeks were pure hell for him, he was in denial, hoping he could do without the heroin but found himself experiencing insufferable agony. He made it his mission to find Masood and exact revenge. He confided in Javed, who in turn offered him his gun. Feeling more confident, he went out on the streets in search of Masood. After 2 days he found him, sitting on the side of the road, cracking jokes with a friend. Seeing him there, without seemingly a worry in the world, Hassan took out the gun and fired. He heard a short scream and then to his horror, saw Masood's FRIEND fall to the floor, blood streaming from his upper body. Hassan dropped the gun and ran off, he had not meant to kill anyone, the bullet was meant for Masood, to scare him and make him pay.

He did not know what to do, he roamed the streets for many days, and had a to face a new reality. He was now a murderer, a fugitive, running from the law. He made the decision to leave town. He went to Rawalpindi, close to the capital, Islamabad. This was the worst time of his life. He was heroin addict, a murderer and now had no one to protect him from the additional dangers of living on the streets. He found himself living from day to day, earning what little money he could scavenging, pick pocketing, and then ultimately offering his body for as little as 20 rupees (15 pence equivalent). All to support his addiction. He found other children in a similar predicament, offering their bodies for just a bowlful of rice. One day, the police cornered him for stealing someone's phone. Hassan removed a blade he kept in his pocket for such occasions. He had seen other street children do the same thing. Self-mutilation. He started to cut himself violently, first his hand, then his face, then his neck. As the blood started to pour out, the police got alarmed and backed off. This was to become his defense mechanism every time he got into trouble.

As Hassan's life deteriorated, he soon found it more effective to take heroin intravenously rather than through inhalation. Completely unaware of the extra risk he was putting himself at; Hassan became an injecting drug user. He had no idea of the dangers posed to his health by sharing syringes. So enslaved was he to heroin that most of the time he had no idea of where he was or what he was doing. Sleeping on the roadside, in ditches and the filthiest of places where even the police did not want to venture. The next few years of his life passed thus.

One day, walking through the streets of Rawalpindi, he was stopped by a man. "Hassan?" he said. Hassan looked at him, not quite sure who this man was. He nodded. "My God, it IS you! What's happened to you?". Then he remembered. It was Javed. How long ago it all seemed, he had been so young then. Life had been, in comparison, far better than it was now. Hassan was 15 now. Javed took him for a cup of tea and told him what had transpired after he left town. Hassan need not fear the police anymore, the family of the person he had killed had not filed a report (he was also a drug addict and they were relieved to be rid of him). He convinced Hassan to go back with him to Peshawar. Hassan went with him but Javed had an ulterior motive. Hassan had been his best recruit and he did not intend to let him go. Under threat from Javed about what would happen if he did not comply, Hassan soon became a full time pick pocket again. In a matter of weeks, Hassan's face was in all the police stations. He was cornered by police a few times, but his survival mechanism, self-mutilation, saved him every time. He spent a few months like this, working for Javed.

One day, smoking heroin outside a mosque in Peshawar, he was approached by a small group of people. They didn't seem to want to harm him, in fact, quite the opposite. They spoke to him about his addiction and what it had done to his life. It was the DOST outreach team. They questioned him on how long he had been addicted to heroin and why he had started. Being unable to trust anyone, Hassan lied to them about his past and said that his parents were dead. They told him that he did have hope and there was a place that would help him overcome his addiction. Hassan could not believe that anyone would want to help him without asking for anything in return. But he continued to listen to them and started to feel cautiously motivated. Was this possible? Could he really break free of this wretched addiction that had controlled his life for the past 4 years? He decided it was worth a try. He went to their Drop-In Centre. He was asked to wash his hands and face, was given food and water and shelter from the heat of the streets. He was not allowed to take any drugs on the premises though. If he wanted to take drugs, it would have to be after he left the centre. Hassan decided he liked this place. He started coming here everyday, staying for longer and longer each time. Not taking the drugs was hard, but here he got lots of other facilities that he would never have got on the streets. He was able to watch television, play board games, and do things other 15 year olds did. But what he liked best of all was speaking to former addicts who had beaten their addiction. With continued counselling, he soon felt ready to move into DOST’s residential treatment centre to try to permanently rid himself of this awful, awful disease. That's what it felt like, a disease.

Hassan was admitted to the DOST street children's programme a few days later. When he arrived, a person took down his history and gave him clean clothes. He was asked to take a bath. His self-inflicted wounds burned under the water. A doctor then gave him a complete medical checkup and took some tests, and then he was shown to his room. It was a light and airy room, very welcoming and colourful.

He was introduced to the other boys who had previously lived on the streets. He noticed the startled looks on some of the younger ones faces when they saw the gashes on his body but they soon started talking and the atmosphere became relaxed. It was beginning to feel a bit like a home, and he was feeling a kinship with them already. They all had their meal together and then turned in for the night. He got a good nights sleep and woke up in the morning feeling positive. He had not felt positive in a very long time. But then came the hard part. Withdrawal Symptoms. What happened over the next 2-3 days he didn't quite remember. They seemed to go by in somewhat of a blur. The excruciating pain he felt throughout his body, the constant horrible feeling of nausea, the relentless vomiting. He had been given medication to make the process easier but he didn't know how it could possibly have been harder than this. He wanted heroin so badly he didn't know how to cope. He wanted to hurt himself, hurt someone else, to scream, and most of all, to run away. And he would have, had it not been for the person, a counsellor, who stayed by his side 24 hours of the day. He constantly encouraged him, reassuring him and telling him he could hold his hand as hard as he wanted to when he felt the urge to hurt someone, and that he could cry and scream and let go of any emotions within him. Also, he had the other children close at hand, and that gave him comfort. They all sympathised with him and truly understood what he was going through. They were able to identify with him and also to assure him that this would be over soon. This indescribable state of agony would come to pass.

Although he did not believe it, in due time, his body aches began to recede, the nausea went away and he started to feel a bit more normal again. The worst was over, and now he was ready to move on to the next stage, rehabilitation. In this process, he and his peers were made to act as a substitute family for each other, and they called it a Therapeutic Community. They all shared in the daily chores and had their specific duties in housekeeping. Hassan had responsibilities that he enjoyed fulfilling, it gave him satisfaction that he could achieve these things and his self esteem started building.

At the same time, he was starting an informal education again, picking up where he had left off. In the afternoons, all the boys would get together for a game of cricket and other sports. He also received training in vocational skills, helping to produce embroidered crafts and then receiving reimbursement from the sale of items. He felt his life was coming together at last. Then came the blow. Results had come in for some blood tests he had taken when he was first admitted into the treatment centre. Hassan was informed that he was HIV positive. His head reeled when he heard the news. COULD THINGS BE ANY WORSE? He had been educated about this illness, how it could take over your life, and how it was transmitted through sharing syringes. But he had never thought it would happen to him. Hassan broke down then and told the DOST team what he had withheld so far. His parents were still alive and as far as they knew, Hassan was most likely dead. The team spoke to him and told him that further tests had also revealed that he was only in the initial stages of the disease and that it could take 10-15 years for it to develop into AIDS. He didn't know whether this was supposed to make him feel better but he at least it wasn't the death sentence he had initially thought. They also told him that he could receive treatment for it through partner organisations that they worked with, and that he would be well looked after during this time. These few years on the streets were going to impact his life in a way he had never imagined, but knowing that there was hope, and that he wasn't alone made him feel better. This was something he was going to have to accept, and live with. He made up his mind to make the most of what he had now.

One day, just as he had finished saying his prayers, Hassan looked up and saw a strangely familiar face. The man was staring at Hassan, and all of a sudden, broke into tears. It was his father. His father, whom he had not seen for the past 6 years, whom he thought he would never see again. The DOST team had, using all their resources, managed to locate him and inform him that his son was alive, and was with them. Hassan could not believe it, all the memories came flooding back to him. He had stolen his father's money and fled the country, was he still angry about that, would he forgive him? He didn't have to worry about that long. His father embraced him, weeping, saying he thought he had been kidnapped, he thought he was dead, and was so happy to see that he was alive and well. For Hassan too, seeing family was an incredible thing. Would he actually see his mother again, and his siblings? He told his father he wanted to go home with him, and to try and put his past behind him.

Hassan was reunited with his father in 2008, and having finished his treatment, left for Afghanistan with him. He returned for a checkup 6 months later, still clean of drugs and doing well. He continues to get his yearly treatment for HIV and is currently living in Afghanistan, helping his father with his shoe business.