May 6, 2021
Students harness social media for harm-reduction initiative
What began as an idea pitched at a competition to find answers to global challenges has become a passion project for three University of Calgary students.
The Liam Project is focused on youth-targeted harm reduction, working to provide accessible education and destigmatize substance use through social media and grassroots partnerships.
Arts students Annabelle Macrae, Alex Ewanyshyn and Claire Hadford first pitched the idea at the World’s Challenge Challenge (WCC), an innovative competition that offers students the opportunity to propose solutions to major world issues. After making it to the UCalgary finals, but failing to progress to the global finals, the team decided to continue their project outside of the WCC framework.
“We agreed before the final pitch went ahead that, no matter what happened, we wanted to continue this project in whatever capacity possible,” says Hadford.
The Liam Project — named for a close friend who died after overdosing at the age of 18 — resides primarily on Instagram. Content shared by the initiative focuses largely on substance use and addiction information that “tackles the lesser-known demographic of people who use drugs, in particular youth who experiment with drugs,” says Ewanyshyn.
The three each contribute unique knowledge and skills to the team that have been fostered through their time as UCalgary students.
Macrae, who just completed her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in political science and global development, is the research powerhouse of the initiative.
“The university has been so critical in showing us that we can have say in policies that are being made and policies that will directly influence us, and I think that influencing policy something that we would eventually like to do with the Liam Project,” she says.
The loss of the project’s namesake inspired Ewanyshyn to join UCalgary’s Safer Substance Use Council two years ago.
“After my friend Liam passed away from an overdose, I joined the Upstanders Program through the Wellness Centre, and was introduced to safer substance use through the Harm Reduction 101 training,” she says. “The exposure to the philosophy of harm reduction opened my eyes to an alternative to abstinence-only programming, and decided to sit on the Safer Substance Use Council to provide a youth perspective.
"The support from the harm reduction advisers in the Wellness Centre has been integral to the development of our project, from the conceptualization of our pitch to the launch of our Instagram.”
Ewanyshyn is currently completing the third year of a combined Bachelor of Arts in psychology and urban studies.
Hadford, who is currently completing the third year of her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in philosophy, creates the social content that the Liam Project uses to educate and engage with the community.
“I’ve been very pleased with the amount of freedom I’ve had to pursue my own interests throughout my degree, in particular harm reduction,” she says. “I feel very lucky and very excited to apply a discipline like philosophy, one that is not often seen as being useful to how people operate in their daily lives, and do something that is very evidently useful, but also investigate underneath the surface and see how people view things.”
The ultimate goals of the trio are to expand the Liam Project by connecting with other North American harm-reduction organizations to provide education, destigmatize addiction, promote the conversation around youth drug use, and ultimately honour their friend’s legacy.
For more information about the Liam Project, visit Instagram.com/theliamprojectyyc.