Interview with Kosmicare UK founder Karin Silenzi de Stagni
What service does Kosmicare UK provide and why is it important?
Kosmicare UK is a service dedicated to helping people who are undergoing difficult drug related experiences at festivals. We set up a shelter in accordance with the principle of set and setting, essential for psychedelic care work. Our space is very calm and pleasant, with a central focus or shrine that is not religious but has elements of nature and evokes happy thoughts. We provide a service that is tailored to each individual in that unique time, giving non-judgemental support and empathy. Although we have immediate access to medical and security services by a radio connection, we try to resolve the situation just with peer support.
Most of the time all that a person in a psychedelic crisis needs is reassurance that they will come back to base line eventually and we will be there to take care of them if something goes wrong. Doctors have the best intentions but many times just their presence creates anxiety, the same happens with security guards, so just a friendly face is much more soothing for people in crisis. We think that if someone is having a “bad trip” it is because he/she may be in need of it, they may be confronting their own fears, and there is potential to find benefit from it. Therefore, we do not work with denial or trying to make people come back to “normal” but, embracing the moment, we provide support for the individual to come through the ordeal more wholesome and wise. Although drugs are banned by law, people take them regardless.
From a health point of view it’s a nightmare the amount of new substances that come on to the market every month. Since 2005, 200 new substances have emerged and many of which are legal highs. Young people challenge themselves to try every new thrill out there. While we stuck with prohibition we will need a Kosmicare service, in an ideal world, drugs will be labelled with clear and pragmatic information about dangers, time of duration, maximum doses, etc.. We do not advocate the illegal use of drugs, but we do believe a pragmatic approach acknowledging their existence is the best policy to achieve harm reduction. Apart from the one-to-one support we provide drug and harm reduction information, cups of tea and a warm fire. We are not pro or against any personal choice, we are just there to care. Acknowledging that in gatherings and festivals people are pushing boundaries and that it’s there where we need to give support is an important step to take. On the words of Sandra Karpetas, one of the precursors of this type of work:
“No one should ever have to go through a bad experience without knowing that support can be found if needed. Addressing and reducing the potential harm associated with the use of drugs is our responsibility as a community. Those of us who work with KosmiCare believe that the world is a shared responsibility wherein we must look out for and take care of each member, just like in a tribal setting. We believe the wellbeing of each individual is vital to the wellbeing of the whole, as a true tribe and a living organism, breathing as one”
Where did the idea for Kosmicare UK come from? What is its history?
KosmicareUK branched out of Boom Festival’s KosmiCare psychedelic welfare service. Since 2002, Boom Festival in Portugal has provided a psychedelic emergency/harm reduction service, and in 2008, Diogo Ruivo the funder of Boom festival got together with MAPS to develop an extended framework to share globally. Later that year the “KosmiCare” framework was put into operation; coordinated by Portuguese psychologists David Lameiras and Sandra Karpetas (who supervised the initial program in 2002). Over the past several years, the project became broader, both in infrastructure and partnerships.
After a successful, challenging and rewarding time as a volunteer with KosmiCare at Boom Festival 2008, I recognized the need for similar services at other festivals. Upon returning to the UK, I wrote to MAPS asking for permission to set up the organisation in the UK. They gave me positive feedback and were happy for me to use the “KosmiCare” framework including volunteer application, required reading list and feedback forms, as used by the KosmiCare team at Boom. I then opened a KosmicareUK group on Facebook for networking purposes and interest grew rapidly. In 2009 KosmicareUK was founded with the support of other volunteers from Boom and a talented team recruited from a wide range of backgrounds.
The team bonded well and succeeded in borrowing a comfortable venue, and equipment was entirely sourced from from freecycle, along with sleeping bags, blankets and pillows from tatting at bigger festivals. Everyone brought something to donate, clothes, tables, carpets. The crew worked well alongside medical and standard welfare services who acknowledged the need for the specialist assistance that KosmicareUK provided. Most importantly, the team helped a wide range of people. KosmicareUK have work at a number of festivals for the last five years. Sunrise Celebration, Eden, Waveform, Boomtown Fair, Glade, Alchemy Fest, Magikana, Sunset, and every year there are more festival organizers looking for our unique approach of welfare.
How would you like to expand it in the future?
It would be of great value if every music festival and event promoter/organizational team were to take this safe space model into consideration in their future planned events.
We believe that KosmiCare UK or similar care services should be available to all of those in need at festivals across the UK, free of charge and without consequences. This unique type of welfare service is essential to the smooth functioning of any music event. Festivals who ask for this service show that they are conscious, responsible and care to provide for their guests the best harm reduction standards. Ideally every festival should have a Kosmicare, but logistically it’s impossible for our team to do that. However, we would like in the future to provide training to other groups of people that will like to do this work in their area. In this way KosmicareUK will have local groups In harmony with the vision of the framework, a network that could operate in all the corners of the UK and to provide the same recognisable standard of care.
Our aims for the future are:
- Make our services sustainable
- Own our own structures and transport
- Create a minimum of 2 full time positions
- Offer a UK wide service
- Increase the number of volunteers taking part and attract more professional support
- Strengthen recognition of the service
- Train more volunteers to become coordinators in their locality
- Improve our commercial and income generating capacity
To achieve these objectives we face the inescapable reality: that we need to find a way to generate money. It is a very difficult job, as we believe this service should be free for who ever is in need of it. Therefore the fund to run the service has to come from sponsors and donations from the community and not directly from the person in crisis. Festivals do pay our expenses, like fuel and food, but it doesn’t cover for all the running costs and the work we do throughout the year. Most people don’t realize the amount of hours we do every week away from the festivals.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get involved with harm reduction and Kosmicare UK?
For people interested to volunteer at the festivals they need to fill an application form to see if they have what it takes; first of all great empathy and the will to learn. Also the ability to act with urgency when required, to be relentlessly kind and non judgemental. In the words of Tea Faery: “The works demands the patience of a kindergarten teacher, the insight of a transpersonal psychologist, and the total acceptance of a priest.”
We are constantly looking for help – new volunteers, resources, funding, and people with storage and structures like yurts or domes for our space. Also knowledgeable and eloquent people who like to write and give input to create a website or write blogs and reports. My colleague Tracy Dunne and I can’t do it all! We work as a team and we depend on each other’s commitment and collaboration for our project. So we invite volunteers to join forces in many ways. Just write an email to email@example.com and we will forward you an application.
Thank you for your time Karin!
HELP SUPPORT KOSMICARE: http://gogetfunding.com/project/kosmicareuk-yurt-fund