An initiative aimed to confront stigma around the toxic drug crisis is coming to an official end after being held from downtown Campbell River over the past month.
The Walk With Me project is an initiative by researchers at the Comox Valley Art Gallery and Thompson Rivers University in partnership with AVI Health and Community Services. It features community guided walks with ‘audio journeys’ containing stories from those affected by the drug crisis.
“I was working at the Comox Valley Art Gallery, and we had witnessed the impacts of the toxic drug poisoning crisis in a huge way in our community, and we wanted to know what an art gallery could do to make change” said Sharon Karsten, project director and researcher.
The project, which aims to hold the stories and voices of people most impacted by the crisis, started out of necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
“We didn’t want to gather too many people together indoors, and so we decided to walk outdoors with audio,” she said. “So what happened to be a decision out of necessity in COVID times became a core part of our work and what we do.”
The project takes participants under bridges and through alleys, allowing the stories to wash over them.
“The act of walking allows us to listen to stories and for the stories to also fall off of us,” she said.
Listening to the stories alongside those struggling helps create empathy, said Shawn Decaire, with the Laichwiltach Family Life Society.
“With Walk With Me, you have the people who are living this life right now, who are going through great turmoil in their life from residential schools, from personal traumas, from historical traumas, or anything in between, or just plain addictions. And you get to sit with these people and understand that humanity is still in their eyes, they’re still just human,” he said.
“They just need a little bit of compassion and love, and you’d see how friendly they are.”