Walk With Me Project

April 04, 2023

By Grey Nguyen


This blog features the voices of the Walk With Me project team members Sharon Karsten, Project Director and Community Engaged Researcher, and Christopher Hauschildt, Peer Researcher and Operations Coordinator.

The nationwide toxic drug poisoning crisis is taking place in both large and small communities. The Walk With Me project employs community action research with an arts-based foundation to raise awareness about the crisis and impact positive change.

“The Walk With Me project was initiated unconventionally through the Comox Valley Art Gallery,” says Karsten.

As the former director of the Comox Valley Art Gallery, Karsten has seen the impact of this crisis on community members, youth in programs, and those living around the Gallery. This impact is evident not just in the Comox Valley where the gallery is located but across the island.

 “The small towns and cities in northern Vancouver Island have also been impacted by the toxic drug poisoning crisis, contrary to the belief that this crisis is limited to large urban centers,” said Karsten.

To address this issue, the gallery started seeking ways to make a change. They began by consulting community leaders, such as the Medical Health Officer in the region and AVI Health and Community Services, a harm reduction non-profit located near the gallery. Through conversations with service providers, outreach workers, health leads, Peers and artists, the project was created.

Some of the most important input came from those who experienced the issues first-hand. “As someone with lived experience, who has been working with Walk With Me for about two years and also works as a casual harm reduction support worker at AVI Health Community Services, I have faced a great deal of loss to this crisis that is shared by many people in the country,” shared Hauschildt. “It feels like we are one degree of separation away from someone who has also experienced loss.”

Over the past six years, more than 30,000 people have lost lives due to the crisis in Canada. In British Columbia the number of deaths resulting from toxic drug poisoning has surpassed the combined fatalities caused by car crashes, suicides, and homicides, shared Hauschildt. These numbers are alarming, and it is crucial to revamp the systems to make a meaningful difference for those who are affected by this crisis daily. The work is both significant and meaningful, and, according to the team at Walk With Me, entirely feasible to undertake.

“The report is essentially walking people through our journey and reimagining a role for research that is empathetic, that is engaged and that is guided by people at the heart of the issues being studied, and by Elders and Knowledge Keepers.”, said Karsten.

The project team partnered with CERi to produce a report documenting the development of their project and its capacity to promote change by uniting various groups, in addition to cooperating with community organizing bodies like the Comox Valley Art Gallery to establish a network of connections. By bringing diverse communities and stakeholders together, the team has developed an approach that other communities can modify to fit their specific circumstances. The report’s purpose is to share the team’s experiences and seek partners throughout British Columbia who are striving to make progress on the crisis or addressing system reform.

When it comes to the future of the project, Karsten believes that “The report is expected to facilitate the establishment of closer relationships”. The team intends to travel to different locations to expand their Solidarity Network throughout BC communities.”

Walking is a fundamental aspect of the Walk With Me project, which was initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project involves walking together while listening to audio tracks of personal stories and experiences related to the toxic drug poisoning crisis. These audio tracks are compiled from the stories shared by people with lived experiences, frontline workers, and family members. Each audio track is about 40 minutes long and is listened to by individuals on headphones. This practice is an effective way to humanize the experiences of those impacted by the crisis and facilitate conversations among community members from different demographics. The Walk With Me project has compiled five different audio tracks and aims to create further tracks with communities engaged in the project.

On April 27, 2023, the Walk With Me project will host two walks in Vancouver.

For more information, visit here.

Learn more about Walk With Mehttps://www.walkwithme.ca/

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