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Biking Uphill: The Otesha Project

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Issue: 25 Section: Environment Geography: Canada Topics: climate change

February 4, 2005

Biking Uphill: The Otesha Project

otesha.jpgphoto: The Otesha Project
At 18-years-old, Simon Moll had to make a decision. It was either go back to school after his Canada World Youth experience in Vietnam, or bike across Canada for a cause he believed in. He chose the latter. One year later, Moll is one of three coordinators of the Otesha Project's Coast2Coast bike tour, aimed to educate Canada's youth on environmental issues.

"We always tell them, 'Be the change you want to see,'" says Moll, who will start the second Otesha tour this April.

The idea for Otesha (Swahili for "reason to dream") was born in Kitale, Kenya in February, 2002 to Jocelyn Land-Murphy and Jessica Lax. The then 21-year-olds were studying sustainable development in a traveling field school when they caught a glance of Canada from the outside. According to their website, the view wasn't pretty: "There is no doubt that our current way of life is harming the planet and its inhabitants." Determined to make a change, they created the Otesha Project with the hope to "empower our generation to take action towards a sustainable future. [The project] is based on the belief that there are alternatives to our consumer society, and that we all have the opportunity to have a positive impact." Action came in the form of four bicycle tours, one of which takes participants from the Pacific Coast to Canada's Atlantic East.

"The process is like a product," Moll says of the Coast2Coast tour. Last year, he and 32 other members of the Otesha Project completed the 164 day trip, biking the entire country from Spring until Fall. But the tour is more than just scenery; participants made over 250 presentations at schools and community centres, with a total estimated audience of more than 12,000 youth. At an average of 100 km a day, that's no easy task. Moll suggests that the tour itself is a metaphor for projects like Otesha, working for change and awareness. "I always say my favorite part was biking up hills," he says. "When you have an understanding of a world you want, the top doesn't matter. It's the hope that's driving you on."

It's hope that Otesha offers to their youthful audience. Presentations usually include personal storytelling, slideshows, and theatre, all outlining better environmental choices accessible to young people. For example, a play performed by Otesha addresses the choices one makes in a typical hour of the day, including personal water use, food and fair trade, clothing choices and getting creative with all of the above. Moll says that kids aren't always given enough credit when it comes to their interest in these issues. "They're really responsive," he says, adding that the inspiration doesn't end when the presentation does. Students are given postcards, on which they record their environmental efforts and aspirations, and send them back to Otesha.

Moll admits he's a "hopeful hooligan," and finds fulfillment in living his values. Like many of the Otesha members, he believes his international experience gave him a unique view of Canada, and the drive to concentrate on becoming the change, locally. "We have to understand that we're part of the problem," Moll says. "But we're also part of the solution."

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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