Beating addiction in Indonesia: Rani’s story

"When you're helping people and you actually succeed, the feeling is incredible. You can't compare it to other things.”

Rani, an ex-drug user, learned she was living with HIV in 2002. She got support at a local rehab centre, and put her life back together. 

Rani is a small dark haired woman. She is 31 years old, from a close-knit, loving family who live in a middle class suburb of Bandung, one of Indonesia's largest cities.

Her petite stature belies her tenacity and courage. Rani is a survivor. She has fought her addiction to heroin and been clean for seven years now but her drug habit has left her HIV positive.

Rani works as the field coordinator for Rumah Cemara's case management programme for care, support and treatment for people living with HIV in Bandung, Indonesia. "When you're helping people and you actually succeed, the feeling is incredible. You can't compare it to other things.”

Rumah Cemara is an Linking Organisation, set up in 2003 by five former drug users in Indonesia. 

Sharing personal experiences

“Being a user has helped me to understand and talk to other people about drug use. I started using drugs when I was 17. It was curiosity,” says Rani. But what started as curiosity developed into heroin addiction.

"I'd heard about HIV from the TV but didn't have any details and it wasn't very clear what it was all about. I would try buying needles and syringes from pharmacies to inject the heroin but there are only a few in Bandung that sell them and the police know that it's the users who buy them. As a result users are afraid to come and get clean needles because the police who are often in plain clothes wait around and drug users get picked up and taken into custody and then we have to pay a bribe to get out. So, we all shared needles."

In 2002 Rani learned she was living with HIV. "I'd heard that HIV can be transmitted by using dirty needles and that I might be at risk. By this time the information about HIV was beginning to spread and I became paranoid about it so I went with my mother to have the test.”

“When I learned that I had HIV I felt nothing. The doctor told me I was positive but my T-cell count was good so I didn't need treatment. I was given no more information about HIV and I left thinking I was going to die in three months. There was no support. No information. I then felt a bit messed up."

"It was only thanks to meeting people at Rumah Cemara and getting their support that I realised I could live my life normally."

— Rani

Terrible blow

Rani's mother, Elly Yuliana, has stood by her daughter throughout her turbulent journey. "Her addiction really progressed after her father passed away. They were very close. We are a warm, loving family. Our story is a powerful example that this can happen to anyone," says Elly.

When Rani tested HIV positive it was a terrible blow for Elly. "I felt like the sky was about to fall in. I asked myself, how could this be happening? I'm involved in a family support group, mostly it’s parents who are affected by HIV. We spend a lot of time discussing things about the future; how the illness is progressing, that someone has passed away and we all worry about our children."null

Life without drugs

A lack of information on HIV was a real problem for Rani in the early days. "I did feel people were judging me and I faced both stigma and discrimination. People asked me if they could share a bathroom, plates, toothbrushes, they drifted away because they were afraid of me, that I would give them the virus. Providing information on HIV made a difference and things are very different now. I get more respect."

In 2003 Rani volunteered to go to rehab. She was tired and wanted to stop using heroin. "I hit rock bottom. There was nowhere else to go. Using drugs was no longer fun anymore. I was using because if I didn't it was painful. I slowly started to put my life back together really when I entered the Rumah Cemara rehab centre.”

"It was only thanks to meeting people at Rumah Cemara and getting their support that I realised I could live my life normally. The people at Rumah Cemara showed me that it's possible to live without using drugs,” she says.

“People had talked to me regularly about my addiction, encouraging me to give up drugs. The difference this time was the people at Rumah Cemara were people who had been in the same situation as me and they had done it. When you're using it seems impossible to come off drugs so seeing people who had done it gave me the belief that I too could do it."

A positive future

For Rani every day it is a conscious decision to fight her addiction. "I do worry that I am never going to be cured from my addiction and that I could relapse, that's my biggest worry. When I see other people get sick I also worry about my illness in the future."

Through her experiences Rani has become a knowledgeable, strong advocate of working with injecting drug users and with people living with HIV. "We need a comprehensive and integrated support package for harm reduction, HIV prevention information and access to support for recovery. But what happens is very different. People can't afford to go to rehab because it's very expensive and the rehab centre can't be run without money. So there needs to be a much greater range of support in place than there currently is. Rumah Cemara is trying to meet that need. I hope that by telling my story I can make a difference. I'm living. I'm making a difference. I never believed I could come to this point but I have. Rumah Cemara provides a safe environment for people to make changes in their lives," says Rani.