*Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision. Interview completed on November 19, 2016.*
Munroe Craig holds a Bachelors in Health Sciences with a Major in Addictions, as well as a substance use counselor diploma. She is an addiction counselor and operates from a philosophy of harm reduction in all aspects of her profession; specializing in expressive and creative therapies, she is also an active artist.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was the inspiration for Karmik?
Munroe Craig: It is a great question. I love when people ask us it. It comes from many places. Obviously, Karmik was started through collaborative ideas and recognition of an identified need in the community. It did not come from one person.
I grew up in places like Toronto, Prairies, Central America, and Mexico. I am not from Vancouver. We have the TRIP! Project. It is run through the public health system there. For me, one of the first raves was the TRIP! Project in Toronto. I thought, “Wow! What is this?”
They have similar supports to Karmik at youth events. Many harm reduction organizations working in nightlife and community settings will have similar setups. Karmik keeps in line with things that work.
I was impacted by this experience. After that point, I was looking for it. I wanted to make sure something existed. I grew up in the arts and music scene. I participated in them and have done music for them. I have participated in numerous facets within my life.
I want to see the supports there. I have been around a bit. When I came to Vancouver, I moved here for professional life. I work in addictions, mental health, and social work as well. It is my day career.
When I moved out here, I was integrating into the communities more. I did not see many other projects like a TRIP! Project. I started to ask questions. I started to figure out if that existed in Vancouver. A program to fill the identified gap in public health in certain communities.
When I found none, I started to think about where I could place some skills there. From that point, I was active in online forums. I met Alex Betsos, who is the volunteer coordinator. He is another co-founder of Karmik.
Also, I met Margaret Yu there too. She is another co-founder. She stepped back in her duties. We recognized the same gap in public health. We have the same background in electronic music and festivals.
We did not see support for people in harm reduction. The inspiration came from that.
Jacobsen: What tasks and responsibilities come with Karmik?
Craig: I own the business. I am the outreach director too. I am the annoying person bugging somebody about an event, having harm reduction in their event or festival, or to talk and explore the new concept with me.
Also, I do back-end work with Karmik. Everyone in the organization will meet once a week on different tasks. I facilitate naloxone training. I am one of the first peer-to-peer trainers for naloxone. I do naloxone trainings with different community groups and all Karmik volunteers as part of training.
I do live event support as well. When on site for an event, I am one of the coordinators. Those are different people employed to Karmik to be the team leads. They manage, support, and interact with the event as well as managing the peers on shift with them.
Jacobsen: With the scope of Karmik, you mentioned harm reduction for the organization. What is harm reduction? Why is it the preferred strategy for Karmik?
Craig: Harm reduction can be applicable and accessible for many different people. It depends on perception. Harm reduction is any practice that reduces harm for an individual. No matter the category or stipulation that falls into.
It is a practice with yourself. It will reduce harms of any associated behaviours for you. We can think of how harm reduction is basic. When you cross the road, will you look left and right? That is harm reduction.
You are making a safer choice and decision based on education and information. It is about making informed decisions. You looked left and right to cross the road. How did you know to look left and right? How does that factor in as well?
A big part is increasing honest education for people, which is a component of harm reduction. It will empower them to make better choices for themselves in any situation, which is inherently leading to harm reduction behaviours in all situations. If we dig deeper into it, why is that a good choice?
I am trained as a Bachelor of Health Sciences with a Major in Addictions. Usually, I work as an addiction counsellor with youth with concurrent disorders. When we look at how people make decisions and care about their lives, it is about being empowered by the choices made by them.
We have an emphasis on their choices. Everyone can think back on times when people said, “You need to do this.” We reply, “Why do we need to do that?” Then somebody does not give a great answer. It does not feel great for us to do something. We do not feel connected to our reality.
We do not feel that we are engaging in our reality to create our own lives to lead. When we are actively engaged in our lives with genuine connection and passion, we will make better decisions for ourselves. We want to continue that in life.
First, it is a great way of increasing accessibility to honest education. We want to give people the right education and tools to make the right choices.
Second, it increases people’s empowerment and engagement with their own lives. It increases people’s want and desire to control their own lives. It creates a healthier life. It increases the confidence and ambition to take control.
We take control in a way considered the route of least resistance. We do not resist decisions that we want to inherently do ourselves. Harm reduction, when those choices are made in a healthier way, is related to that component as well.
We have to look at oppression and traumatized societies, peoples, and communities. The choices forced on us have not necessarily been the ones we wanted to make. Harm reduction has to do with supporting people from oppressed communities or traumatized communities.
Everyone has been to different areas of that in their lives. In regards to public health, the increased accessibility to honest public support for people to feel heard to make the right choices for themselves and their communities.
It is a no-brainer. Harm reduction works because it works. I appreciate the humour. I used to roll my eyes when I heard that. Just kidding, I never did because I always cared about this stuff.
It is a strategy of, by, and for the people. It has the people’s best interests at heart. Issues seen in BC, the funds allocated for treatment, and spending the money on harm reduction towards incarceration instead.
Media attention has been on looking at treatment programs and substance use support. Specifically, it looks at the reasons for them working and not working. Typically, the ones that do not work come from an oppressive mentality.
Harm reduction is another means to increase openness for people that want to connect and for people that want to do better for themselves.
Jacobsen: Looking into the present and into the future, what is the current scale of Karmik in terms of helping out youth activities and youth involved in them? And what are the plans for expanding operations?
Craig: I always want to expand. I am looking to expand further. We are passionate about how we want to move forward. It is moving forward quickly. It is a fantastic place. I am sure other people have noticed too. It is becoming a media hot topic.
People are having a voice. People are being heard. We have a lot on the horizon. Karmik facilitates music festivals and events. Harm reduction live support at music festivals and events. We train peer-to-peer support groups to travel into the city into the evening, even the early morning.
Maybe, we might travel for more than one day at events. We staff local, municipal, and exterior events in BC. Recently, we were hired for an event in Kamloops. Karmik is not in Vancouver alone. We run training programs. All peer support workers go through a rigorous training program, which we facilitate.
The workshops are done partially by Karmik coordinators including Alex and myself. Also, they are done by other members of the community. For example, we have a local organization called The Consent Crew, which runs a one-evening workshop on consent.
We have someone else that comes, who is associated with Vancouver Pride Society as well. They do the anti-oppression training. We have many ways to engage community members to further the positive causes and the harm reduction philosophy, and the intersections across different disciplines in the communities.
We run those sessions three times per year. They run for about six weeks. They are extensive and year-round. We attend drug policy conferences too. It is international and national. For example, I was at the Reform Conference in Washington last year. There is the International Reduction Conference happening in May, 2017.
Karmik works with different bodies of harm reduction organizations, nationally and internationally. We are part of lots of different projects on drug testing calls, task force groups with Vancouver and BCCDC, and so on.
We are in all of those spaces. On our off festival time, we are participating in all of these groups to move these projects forward. For conferences, we attend as Karmik. Other times, we attend as part of other harm reduction communities on panels.
If we get into International Harm Reduction Conference in May, 2017, in Montréal, we will be presenting with GRIP and ANKORS. GRIP is Montréal’s harm reduction, which is much like the Trip! Project. ANKORS is from Shambhala.
We work in different ways with others for social awareness and acceptance around harm reduction as well. I am working to expand Karmik into different communities and chapters. Something that has come up. It is not the public health authority.
In Vancouver, we have Vancouver Coastal Health. Karmik is well-connected with them. We have a great working relationship. Also, we are on the Healthlink BC website. It is information without funding, but a great working relationship together.
For example, if I get an event request for Kamloops, I would love to say, “Karmik chapter in Kamloops. Your interior health is different in Kamloops. I want a likeminded community to connect and do Karmik training, and to facilitate the event.” It would make the harm reduction connections in those communities.
Karmik does not have to, nor does it need to, do all of this. I would love to see others be able to step up. It would be to have the same power and accessibility for their communities. That is some of the work for the future.
We hired some new people for Karmik. We hired two new coordinators. Also, for someone as part of the full organization, we hired one individual. We are always looking to expand. There is so much interest in what we’re doing.
However, we want to give it its due diligence by admitting that we need more people on board with this. That is why we do hiring. It is based out of needs and the understanding that we’re growing rapidly and people want to grow with us.
In the future, we are always trying to run national and international drug testing projects. We are always on the tip of what is coming up, how to come together for Canada particularly, and so on.
I run harm reduction for Bamboo Bass Festival in Costa Rica in February every year, which is great. I manage a festival in harm reduction there. It is going to be exciting because it is the first year connecting with local organizations for Central America and South America.
There is one group, an NGO in San José with a friend named Ernesto, and another person from a Mexican city. They will be bringing their expertise to support us. We will be working together for the harm reduction for the Bamboo Bass Festival in Costa Rica.
Karmik is always extending internationally to move the harm reduction philosophy forward to help with parties in different regions. In Costa Rica, there is no data and no collection on research on harm reduction philosophy.
To be able to start moving those forward with any pragmatism, we need to collect the data, which is what we will be doing with their support. Also, we are always looking for funding. We will have some media come out, even some documentaries – keep an eye on our media page.
Currently, we take private donations. However, we are looking for external funding with the high tide of harm reduction. We will see what comes next!
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Munroe.
Craig: Yea, totally!
Image Credit: Munroe Craig/Karmik.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.