Joan: Grandmother, entrepreneur, drug user and role model

Bunda Joan, ‘Bunda’ meaning mother in Bahasa, is 39 and from Bandung in Indonesia. She’s a proud mother and also a grandmother to two-year old Mufti who she loves spending time with.

Her daughter Fanny is 18. Joan was a similar age when she started using drugs. “I was in junior high and hanging around with boys from the neighbourhood. I tried marijuana and methamphetamine.”


© Vincent Rumahloine for the Alliance

She recalls how she soon became addicted and carried on using throughout senior high or college. When asked if it affected her studies she laughs, “Meth made me real good in college!”. But she acknowledges that there were more serious impacts on her life which led to attempts to kick the addiction.

The first time was with her parents help. They were aware of her drug use and sent her to a religious based school and rehabilitation centre outside of the capital. “The treatment is really good there but I missed Bandung so I ran away to come back home after six months.”

Another time, later on in her adult life, “I spent two years clean,” but after a turbulent and violent marriage Joan started using again.

Staying healthy

Now Joan has balance in her life. She’s divorced and is able to focus on work and family. She is enrolled in a programme which promotes harm reduction for people who use drugs. It’s run by Rumah Cemara where Joan can access clean injecting equipment and methadone, which helps her manage her heroin use while still also managing her life.

“The acceptance from people at Rumah Cemara means it’s a safe space where I can share anything without judgement.” Joan has made good friends through the programme and is also a volunteer and role model. The non-judgmental support extends to her positive HIV status which she found out through attending a voluntary counselling and testing session. “At first I was very concerned, and I realise this was due to my risky lifestyle in the past.” Now she has accepted her status, and being aware of it means she can access support to stay healthy, and as a volunteer can support others.

Due in no small part to the support she has received, Joan has not only been able to keep the family business ticking over, in collaboration with her sisters, but also start to think about more entrepreneurial endeavours.

“I’ve got an idea for a food business. It will help with my plans for Fanny to continue her studies, and I’ll have time to help by looking after my grandchild Mufti.”

Support. Don’t Punish

Joan is a great example of why people who use drugs should be supported not punished. A ‘war on dugs’ is a war on ordinary people, including young people, business owners, parents, grandparents. The 2015 Support Don’t Punish Day of Action (26 June) calls for better drug policies that prioritise public health and human rights - like the harm reduction work of Rumah Cemara and others, an approach which has proven results in preventing HIV transmission and reducing crime, as well improving individuals lives, and at a lower cost to government spending.

Indonesia, where Joan’s from, has taken what Amnesty described as a “retrograde step” for human rights, executing 14 people by firing squad for drug trafficking charges this year including two Indonesians and 12 foreign nationals. Indonesia’s attorney general said this step is “aimed at protecting our nation from the danger of drugs”. Join the global day of action to show your support for harm reduction approaches, and for the human rights of people who use drugs.


© Vincent Rumahloine for the Alliance