Unity goes international. But what are we doing there?
Unity was established in 1996 (yes, we are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year!) and since then we provide drugs and alcohol harm reduction information at festivals and dance events in the Netherlands. But did you know we occasionally also cooperate with our colleagues from abroad?
First a little piece of history
In 1998 the Basics Network “for dance culture and drug awareness” was established consisting of European peer education projects working in the party scene. From this network and the Democracy, Cities & Drugs Safer Nightlife Platform and its next step, the Nightlife Empowerment and Wellbeing Network (NEW Net) was established in 2013. The partner organizations regularly come together to share experiences, work and collaborate on international projects and to discuss (future) activities.
Unity volunteers have attended many international meetings since 1998 and have participated in several European projects. Dozens of volunteers have b een giving harm reduction information within international teams at festivals abroad. As you might know the Dutch are keen on travelling and visiting festival abroad, and eventually you’re bound to come across one of us behind a drug-info stand or on the dancefloor somewhere in the world.
In 2014 we travelled with a small ‘delegation’ of about ten Unity volunteers to Paris for a NEW Net meeting. The main program took place in the City Hall where we learned a lot about how our partner organisations in other countries work. After the official day program, we were welcomed at the office of our French colleagues from peer project Techno+ for a ‘social program’.
Photo: NEW Net meeting Paris, 2014.
By meeting in exchanges like this, you can clearly see how different organizations can be, but you also immediately notice the many similarities. The biggest similarity is surely how open-minded, unprejudiced and involved in the community everyone is. After the meetings in Paris, our minds were full of new ideas and plans and we were inspired to improve our work in the Netherlands.
In addition to this meeting in Paris, Unity also collaborated with Safe ’n Sound in 2015, this is a peer-to-peer project in Flanders, Belgium, with whom we cooperated in providing the ‘I love techno’ visitors in Belgium and the Awakenings visitors in Amsterdam with harm reduction information. Furthermore, we travelled with a group of volunteers to Germany to do the same at Q-Base. These kind of activities are very much appreciated by the volunteers of the various projects, as well as by visitors of these festivals. Receiving information and chatting in your own language is simply just more relaxed.
About Trip sitting
A slightly different collaboration in 2015 was aimed at educating and trip-sitting at Psy-fi festival in Leeuwarden. Psy-fi is a festival where psychedelische trance (psytrance, goa) is played. During the festival we were part of a team hosted by Drug Scouts, DAT2 and the OPEN Foundation. Because people might experience some difficulties without being in need of medical attention after taking psychedelics, a team of well trained volunteers was present to help people to work through their trips in a positive way. The team collaborates with the medical team, but have distinctly different tasks. If someone is having a difficult trip, the first aid tent isn’t the most relaxing place to be. Therefore these teams create a beautiful, relaxing space where you can get your trip back on track in a laid back and comforting environment. The two best known and professional organizations that provide this kind of interventions are Kosmicare at the Boom festival in Portugal and the MAPS Zendo Project at Burning Man in the US.
Photo: PINS volunteers. Right: Logo’s PINS partner organisations.
This year Unity went a step further and became one of the partners of the Connecting Peer Interventions in Nightlife Settings (PINS), a European project within Erasmus + of the European Commission. Connecting PINS has seven partners from seven different countries: Check!N (P), Crew2000 (UK), DrogArt (SLO), Drug Scouts (DE), Energy Control (SP), Safe ‘n Sound (BE), and Unity (NL), and is particularly aimed at volunteers; improving key competences and skills through the sharing of practical knowledge and experience and strengthen the international network. We will do this by, among other things, by creating videos to capture knowledge and by creating a website where we can share our knowledge, experiences, questions, etc. amongst each other. During the first meeting the subject quickly came up that we should have some kind of exchange of volunteers. It would add a lot of value to the project and the network. We’ll be supporting all the efforts to actually make this peer exchange happen.
The start of this project took place in the summer of 2015 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. We worked out how we can best do what we agreed upon and made appropriate agreements on how to achieve these goals. This immediately led to an exchange at the Amsterdam Dance Event with 20 international volunteers. They were active at 11 different parties (read more here about how Unity has experienced ADE).
At Unity we are very happy that we can contribute a tiny bit to these kinds of projects and that we are working on a safer nightlife internationally. Worldwide the Netherlands is often seen as progressive and an advanced country in terms of prevention and harm reduction. Unity is one of the organizations that sets an example for countries where prevention and harm reduction are still in the development phase. The partnership within NEW Net and PINS also means that we ourselves learn from others. We all have a slightly different view on things, work in different cultural contexts and since all peers are not afraid to ask critical questions we are able to help each other to stay on track.
In the future we will invest in increasing these international collaborations since the party and festival scene itself is getting bigger and more international every year. It’s also becoming easier for visitors to travel and visit one of the beautiful festivals abroad. So don’t be surprised when you’re at the BOOM festival in 2016 and you are able to chat in Dutch with a Unity volunteer, or of course one of the many other languages we speak within the PINS project.
Carl-Cyril Dreue & Raoul King
Save the Date: 22 & 23th of April 2016: The first international night mayor summit in Amsterdam