The Otesha Project team are an ambitious lot. They want to tackle climate change, poverty, injustice, and educate thousands of young people on how to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Their weapon of action? The humble bicycle. You heard me! But the folks behind Otesha are a clever and forward thinking bunch. They can achieve more with a bicycle and a deceptively simple mission statement then most global corporations could possibly dream of.
Back in 2003, the team that would go onto create the Otesha Project in Canada had recently returned from working in Kenya. Rather than being inspired by life in Africa, Jocelyn Land – Murphy and Jessica Lax were dismayed to find vast inequalities between the North Americans and the Kenyans. The extent of the unfair trading, irresponsible over consumption and labour exploitation that they witnessed left a bitter taste in their mouth but equally seemed too insurmountable a problem for two people to tackle. The feeling of powerlessness acted as a catalyst for their own personal change. On return to Canada they began to alter their lifestyles to reflect the change that they wanted to see in the world. And thus began the Otesha way of being. It’s a beautifully uncomplicated concept, and practically the only one that we can adhere to when all of the world’s problems seem too huge to tackle – that change can occur on the most massive scale by simply altering your own life – in other words, be the change! So this is what they did, and set off through Canada on their bikes, stopping off to make presentations to young people about the importance of social change. Seeing that this was a resounding success, and that they made over 250 presentations to more than 12,00 young people, Otesha was ready for more!
This brings us to the Otesha Project UK, which promotes social change in a number of ways. The most well known way is through their cycle tours. I met with some of the team behind Otesha UK; Liz McDowell and Hanna Thomas recently, and they filled me in on these expeditions. Needless to say, I am not much of a cyclist, but even I was segmenting off part of my summer for the following year to join the next wave of cycle tours. So, for any of you that are interested in spending your summer doing something slightly different to the status quo, this is how it works. A team of volunteers (like yourself, or me after I have done a couple more spinning classes) cycle around a particular part of Britain for around 6 weeks; last year the venues included Cornwall and Wales; this year’s venues are East Anglia, a section of Scotland, and the coast of Wales. Whilst on the travels, the team stop off to speak at schools and communities about environmental and social sustainability. They don’t just speak; plays and workshops are also performed. Whilst on the road, the team record their experiences on journals and video recorders.
There is a bit of a travelling circus element to it; and Liz and Hanna told me that the team clearly love what they are doing. Equally as important – the response from the groups that they speak to is always overwhelming. Many of the group return year after year; Otesha are good to their teams! As well as stopping off at schools, the team also have excursions organised for them. In Wales they get a couple of learning days at the Centre for Alternative Technology, as well as a visit to a permaculture farm. Those who head over to East Anglia get a chance to stay in a tipi at a Roman archaeological site. While this is all good fun, the skills that the team take away with them are invaluable. Getting a head start in public speaking, learning to work alongside and live with a large team of people – and maintain a great relationship with them – are attributes that can be taken anywhere.
When they are not cycling around Britain, The Otesha Project are working with groups of young people over longer periods of time to help create change in their local community. They work from the Otesha Handbook, which highlights issues such as Food, Money, Fashion, Energy, Trade and Transport. Last summer, Otesha worked with students in Tower Hamlets Summer University, who chose to do a project about food; specifically the issues of seasonable and organic food. The students approached local cafes, shops and markets to discover who was using organic, fairtrade food, and wrote to their MP’s asking that organic food be subsidised. This culminated with the students creating a Seasonal Summer Feast for their friends and family, which by all accounts was a great success.
(all images courtesy of The Otesha Project UK)
Other projects have included Getting Ethical About Fashion, held at the Princes Trust XL Club in Barnet, where students discussed issues in fashion that are often swept under the carpets, such as sweatshops, child labour, and the chemicals put in clothes. My favourite sounding workshop was the Dirty Weekend held at Goldsmith’s EnviroClub Community Gardens. Ok, so it was not that kind of dirty weekend, and it involved plans for creating a garden for the local residents and students, but at least the students still got their hands dirty!
The Otesha Project like to say that they are germinating good things, and it does seem that way. Everything that they do is for the benefit of the Earth, and the people who are inhabiting it. If you are interested in working with them, get in touch at:
- The Urban Green Fair
- Social Networking Goes Green!
- Food from the Sky: Growing food on top of a Supermarket in Crouch End
- Trapese Collective – Tools for Social Change Course
- Women from the Global South Speak Out about Climate Change