Lucky, 9, was dazed and banged on the wall when he stumbled toward an apartment in Kabul's central Haft-e-Shuja'i, a narrow and colorful neighborhood with gardens and teahouses and a gaggle of foreign embassies.

Lucky looked toward the door and gushed, "Let me in!" It wasn't him.

It was a deranged young man smoking opium who soon would be dragged away by his police interrogators.

Lucky has the beginnings of an amazing story to tell. Six years ago, he was in a refugee camp in Pakistan, a broken-down opium addict living in shabby conditions.

"The war came," Lucky said in fluent English. "With the war came the drugs."

Today, he has in his possession not just cigarettes and cigarettes but a shiny red backpack and a fluttering blue flag. And he has a job.

On the front line of the drug war, Lucky is a health worker, employed by a nonprofit organization that runs a camp for about 1,000 addicts and supports a social sector that has an investment budget of roughly $30 million a year.

The program began in 2009 after a small group of advocates challenged a section of Afghan law that criminalized addiction. It started slowly, a group of addicts and local residents waiting for international aid agencies to provide housing, jobs and medical care.

The strategy worked: In nine years, the New Support for Afghan Families' (Safa) heroin treatment program has reduced by half the number of addicts in the country. And they are clean, sober and working now.

Mehmet Zafar, whose organization is providing support, counseling and job opportunities, said his staff has given about 30,000 treatment vouchers, that upon request are given to patients in hospital emergency rooms so they can get medical care for the free treatment they receive in rehab.

Thirty percent of Safa's nearly 9,000 employees are also addicts. The program, he said, employs people who live in the same geographical area as its addicts and suffers from the same economic disparity as the drugs they use.

Johannes Morris, a young businessman, was one of those workers. "When I was younger, I was addicted to heroin, and now I am clean," he said. "Most of my friends were also on heroin, but we got free treatment at Safa. I helped and attended treatment programs, and it is a privilege for me to help those who are addicts. I cannot live without doing this."

Sarah Hulton, a mother of four who became a Safa manager after quitting heroin, said there is a lot of cultural baggage from the Afghan parents' experience with heroin and that often they think treating addiction is a Western plot.

"It is not just drugs that attract Afghans," she said. "They are attracted to anything which gives them pleasure or likes to participate in the festivities. This attracts a lot of work. Plus, everyone wants to eat. And it is difficult to control what people eat."

The success of the program, which is entirely dependent on cash donations from private foundations, surprised those involved in its launch and has allowed it to continue. Its patients live in vast, imposing structures with concrete walls and were mostly homeless when the program began. Now, it houses hundreds of young addicts and provides vocational training to 10,000 people. It supports over a dozen welfare centers, where the addicts take classes in art, literacy and carpentry, and it has a network of more than 400 Afghan social workers working on everything from education to human rights.

Kamal Khan, one of the program's agents, left a senior position at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul last month to join Safa full time. He said the U.S. government' aid is about to dry up, and about a quarter of Safa's $30 million budget comes from foreign aid.

"I want to help Afghans," Khan said. "We are trying to build ourselves. We are trying to provide services to our own people so that they won't go to Pakistani and Iranian countries and buy drugs. I am trying to come back and help them here."


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