Eliminating the stigma of addiction is the mission behind a one-day photo exhibit by people directly affected by the opioid crisis in Maple Ridge.
Humans of Maple Ridge will feature around 60 photographs by more than 45 participants from high school students to residents of Anita Place Tent City.
“They are people who are affected in different ways. That could be anything from someone who’s actually experienced addiction or who has had a friend or family member who’s been affected by it,” said Kat Wahamaa, co-chair of the Opioid Overdose Response Task Force, the group behind the project.
“With my son, he was many things. He was a loving father, a loyal friend, a wonderful son, a journeyman trades person. And stigma reduces him to an addict. So it takes everything that he was and makes it a thing. That’s what stigma does,” she said.
This photo project makes sense to Wahamaa given the issues the community is facing.
“It’s an opportunity for people who are marginalized to actually tell a story through their eyes,” said Wahamaa, who contributed two photographs of her own.
The task group was formed in 2016 in response to the declaration of the former Liberal government of B.C., which declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.
The group is backed by Fraser Health, local non-profits, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district, first responders and people affected directly by experience.
Since forming, members have been raising awareness through community forums and educational events, funded by the Overdose Prevention and Education Network Community Action Initiative.
The photo voice project was started after a call-out by the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research to support dialogues around opioid use and is solely participant driven.
“We reached out to a variety of different groups in the community and collaborated with them,” said Kim Dumore, project coordinator.
She worked with groups, including the harm reduction team at Anita Place and residents of the camp, outreach students at Maple Ridge secondary and social justice classes at Riverside school, and went out with them multiple times in different settings for the photography expeditions.
Initially, the groups got together for three or four brainstorming sessions on what the question of the project should be before narrowing it down to how a stigma affects them in the community.
Then they worked on the project, checking back with the task group for guidance to make sure they were honouring the group’s mandate.
“It’s been a five-month process and so I would go out with each participant or groups of participants. We’d establish what they wanted to photograph and we would go out and photograph that with them,” explained Dumore.
Then the participants selected their own work for the exhibition.
“The exhibit is 100 per cent their photos, their ideas and their selection and their work,” said Dumore, adding that it was an eye-opening experience to put herself in other people’s shoes during the process.
Dumore said the project opened her eyes to issues in the community that she thought she already had an established opinion on.
“I’ve really altered my thoughts and feelings towards a lot of things,” she added.
Wahamaa said the exhibit is an opportunity to bring people together and think about what the issues are and again think about the beliefs they might hold.
“The fact that we are really all the same and we all face the same kinds of challenges in different ways in our lives,” she said.
Wahamaa believes that there are many in the community who really think they know about substance use and abuse and what the issues are, but they haven’t got a clue.
“They base everything on judgment and very little [evidence-based] knowledge,” said Wahamaa, who wants to get away from the shame, blame and incarceration.
Dumore hopes this exhibition will help to break down barriers and enable people to see all the citizens in the community in a different light or in multiple different ways.
“We need to open people’s hearts,” she said.
The photo exhibit Humans of Maple Ridge, A Look Into How Stigma Has Impacted Our Lives takes place from noon to 7 p.m. on April 9 at The ACT Arts Centre, 11944 Haney Place in Maple Ridge.
The free event will include local entertainment and will be attended by the artists themselves.
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