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Winners (alphabetical) > The Otesha Project

Silver winner
The Otesha Project
Photo: The Otesha Project
The Otesha Project
National youth-driven sustainability campaign, Ottawa, Ontario

Sustainable Living, 2008

Beneficiary: The Otesha Project , $2,500 award

One part theatre, one part education and one part cycling tour, The Otesha Project is a high-energy, youth-driven environmental initiative that has taken its freewheeling sustainability message on the road. And all across the country, young Canadians are heeding the call.

The not-for-profit Ottawa-based group was founded in 2002 by Jocelyn Land-Murphy and Jessica Lax, two sustainable-development students who met that year in Kenya. Overwhelmed by the inequality of life in developing countries compared with life at home, Land-Murphy and Lax returned to Canada determined to “inspire a revolution” about the power individuals have to protect the world’s resources. In honour of a Kiswahili word that means “reason to dream,” they called their project “Otesha.”

Short on funds but long on enthusiasm, they assembled a core group of volunteers and created the “Morning Choices Play,” a 30-minute skit that hilariously dissects the impact that a teenager’s daily actions can have on the planet — from showering and flushing the toilet to making a bag lunch and choosing what clothes to wear.

In the summer of 2003, 33 cyclists, the Otesha founders among them, headed out on a 164-day cycling tour from Vancouver, B.C., to Corner Brook, N.L., staging the highly animated show to enthusiastic audiences in hundreds of schools, community centres, summer camps and living rooms along the way. “The beauty of the play is that the performance illustrates the hundreds of little things each of us can do every day to make a difference,” says Jennifer Valberg, Otesha’s outreach and development director. “Everyone has the power to contribute. Our goal is to inspire and motivate young people, not make them feel bad about the state of the environment. Most of us really don’t know how easy it is to take positive action.”

Ten cycling tours later, Otesha teams have visited nearly 400 Canadian communities, logging some 30,000 kilometres and delivering more than 2,000 performances and workshops to over 72,000 people. It’s a high-octane package, and the group has reinforced its message in an original book called The Otesha Book: From Junk to Funk, a graphic exposé of our too often thoughtless use of water, clothing, food and transit.

“We’re not just talking about lighting the spark of a revolution here,” the introduction reads. “We’re talking about one all-out, full-fledged, love-filled, sustainability-driven, party-happenin’, lifelong bonfire of a revolution!”

Last updated: 2008




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