The Otesha Project is a Canadian youth-led charitable organization that uses experiential learning, theatre and bicycle tours to engage and empower Canadians of all ages to take action for a more equitable and sustainable world. With a focus on daily choices, Otesha strives to make clear the connection between individuals and large-scale global issues, and to positively impact communities and the planet. All of Otesha’s programs are a part of their broad vision to bring sustainable consumption in the mainstream of Canadian culture. Using a variety of programs, including theatre, workshops, cycling tours, and written word, The Otesha Project has engaged over 150,000 Canadians and has trained over 500 sustainability advocates since 2002.
The Otesha Project was founded in 2002 by Jocelyn Land-Murphy and Jessica Lax. During time spent studying sustainable development in Kenya, the two women were struck by the disparity that they witnessed between the lifestyles that many enjoy in North America, and the lifestyles of many Kenyans. Particularly, they were disturbed by the relative excess of wealth and consumption among North Americans, and were inspired to do something about it. Their dream of a world without such stark inequality became manifest as The Otesha Project – “otesha” is a Swahili word which translates as “reason to dream”. From the beginning, The Otesha Project took a grassroots approach to addressing environmental and social sustainability, focusing on the potential for individual choices to impact the planet. Their vision for a movement became reality in October 2003, when they launched the first, coast-to-coast Otesha bicycle tour. During this tour, over 250 presentations were delivered to over 12,000 people. Since this first tour, the organization and the movement has continued to grow. Since 2002, The Otesha Project has connected with over 150,000 Canadians through creative and energizing performances, workshops, and keynote presentations, and trained over 500 sustainability advocates through their unique cycling tour program.
The Otesha Project uses a variety of tools to put together presentations that share with their audiences the ways in which individual choices can make a difference, both environmentally and socially. These tools include theatre, multi-media, storytelling, motivational speaking, games, facilitation tools and workshops. Otesha facilitators take up to 30 participants through energizing activities that bring fresh information to the table, generate discussion, and allow participants to use their own experience to problem-solve. Otesha presentations are positive, humorous, informative, and accessible to everyone, and allow participants to move from exploration to action in 30–60 minutes.
Every year, The Otesha Project runs several bicycle tours throughout Canada, each of which takes their message of environmental sustainability on the road. Tours range in length from 9 days to 2 months and typically have between 12 and 18 tour members. The goal of Otesha tours is to spread the message to as many individuals and communities as possible, while tour members live by the terms of their own community mandate. This means that groups continually strive to live as sustainably as possible while on tour. Tour life is largely self-directed; decisions are made by consensus. Each tour member plays a role in determining what types of food the group will and will not eat, how they will limit their water consumption, etc. As with the presentations, Otesha’s bicycle tours are meant to be accessible to everyone, regardless of individual levels of cycling experience.
In order to cover some of the costs associated with participating in an Otesha bike tour, members are responsible for fundraising. Tour costs range from $925.00 to $2350.00, depending on tour length. The Otesha Project supports all tour members by providing them with a variety of fundraising ideas and resources to use as a starting point. In addition, bursaries are available to riders that are unable to reach the fundraising goal, or unable to cover the cost of equipment required for the tour.
In addition to the bicycle tours, The Otesha Project also regularly put on presentations as a part of their Hopeful High school Hooligan (Triple-H) program. This is a program that is meant to involve high school students in sharing Otesha’s message of environmental sustainability. This project brings together teams of 10-15 high school students to learn, and present, The Otesha 'Choices' play to their own schools. Through this program, 'Choices' has been presented to over 9,000 high school students.
The Otesha Book: From Junk to Funk provides an in-depth look at the many ways that individual actions can impact the world. Representing the collaboration of over a dozen authors, The Otesha Book is divided into six issue areas: Water, Clothing, Media, Coffee, Food, and Transportation. Within each chapter there are four sub-sections: Removing the Blinders, which is about identifying the problems in many common North American lifestyles; Holding up the Mirror, which is about identifying the ways in which we all do, or don’t, contribute to these problems; Empowerment, which is about recognizing the potential that all individuals have to make lessen their impact on the planet; and Action, which is about fulfilling one’s potential to lessen their impact. These four subcategories provide the lens through which each chapter’s focus area is examined.
As a key resource for anyone interested in creating positive change – educators, parents, students, and concerned citizens alike - The Otesha Book can be ordered with a Teacher's Insert that allows teachers, workshop facilitators, and students themselves to easily construct lesson plans and workshops according to curriculum requirements and/or individual interests.
Paperback copies of The Otesha Book are printed by Warren’s Waterless, a Toronto-based printer that uses non-toxic vegetable-based inks and a revolutionary waterless printing process. The paper is recycled (100% post-consumer waste), chlorine-free, and produced by a mill powered with bio-gas from a nearby landfill. Hand-bound copies are also available, and The Otesha Project strives to make their book a very embodiment of their vision for sustainability by encouraging all those interested in the book to make their own covers from reused materials.
The Otesha Project has also inspired sister organizations across the globe, including Otesha UK, O.P.E.N. (Otesha Pan European Network), and Otesha (Australia). Each organization offers cycling tours, workshops, experiential learning and training for youth to become sustainability advocates.