“I don’t like this life, where I am daily being sexually abused by everyone,” said Zahra, whose addiction after her husband’s death caused her to lose custody of her two children.

Zahra found help from six young Afghan women participating in the USAID Promote Women’s Leadership and Development (WLD) Jawana program. The women—all in their early 20s –completed a 12-week course in December designed to help young, literate women take on decision-making roles in business, government and the civil and academic sector.

As a prerequisite for graduation, students must design and run a project that will not only benefit the community at large, but particularly disadvantaged women.

After doing informal surveys of female drug users, they decided to conduct public sessions to reduce the stigma of drug abuse and raise awareness on how addiction hurts society. They also worked with family members to encourage them to maintain contact with drug-addicted relatives.

Today, after 20 days of treatment at the Mohib Clinic in Heart, Zahra is living at a shelter and working as a tailor. She’s trying to win back her children and help other women struggling with substance abuse.

The Jawana participants who intervened quite possibly saved Zahra’s life. “I have done many other social activities,” said Frootan, a Jawana student, “but this project has brought me a different kind of happiness. When Zahra called me sister and she hugged me, I was unable to control my tears, I felt so proud of her.”

Zahra, 26, used to wander Herat’s streets, begging for coins to feed her drug habit. Dirty, barefoot and covered in rags, she was harassed by men wanting to take advantage of her profound poverty.