After nearly five months and thousands of revolutions of their bike pedals, the group of young activists who comprise the Otesha Project Coast2Coast Tour is wheeling into Halifax. The team hit the road in Vancouver on May 2, with 15 riders, and has since visited nearly 100 cities and towns across the country, speaking to youth in schools and at community gatherings about individual empowerment and how even the smallest choices we make in our lives can have a positive effect on the world we live in. In Halifax, they’re doing a presentation at the Maritime Museum tonight, September 22.
The project was launched in 2002 by two Canadian university students studying sustainable development in Kenya, who were overwhelmed by the disparity in lifestyle and consumption between Western society and that in Africa. Otesha uses story-telling, theatre and multimedia presentations to demonstrate the ability we have to ensure a sustainable future. (Otesha is a Swahili word meaning “reason to dream.”)
The Coast2Coast bike tour is an opportunity for Otesha to take that message on the road. Halifax-based Simon Moll, who, along with Keli Bellaire and Steve Parr, spent a year planning and coordinating the ride, says exchanging ideas with Canadians across the country has been one of the goals.
“There is an interesting dynamic with us interacting with other organizations across the country, and it’s been a learning experience for the people on the tour,” he says. “We hear people’s stories and the issues in their lives, so it’s not just a one-way thing.” He mentions the situation of small farmers in PEI who, because of global warming, can no longer count on predictable seasonal weather for their crops, the historic racism faced by Aboriginals and the lack of youth programs in many small communities as some of the diverse issues the Coast2Coast riders have encountered along the way.
Moll finds the challenge of learning to live on the road with minimal resources and bringing diverse personalities with different skill sets together as a team, one of the most satisfying aspects of the tour for the riders.
“Just waking up early and gathering around a pot of oatmeal, packing lunches and heading out on the road to face the daily challenges, such as the weather, is part of the experience,” he says. “There is a variety of people with different skill sets on the tour. Some have public speaking experience while others have very little, some are experienced campers, and others haven’t done much camping at all, so learning tolerance and what your expectations are of others is a big part of it.”
Of course, with the main point of the Otesha Project being to encourage environmental sustainability and discourage conspicuous consumption, on the road the Coast2Coast team endeavours to practise what they preach.
“The team is a microcosm of society and we strive to embody the things we talk about; using sustainable transportation, eating vegan as much as possible and using very little water,” says Moll. “That’s something we see as allowing us to be better at advocating those choices as well as having a foundation of integrity from which we can share our inspiration.”With the end of this year’s road trip in sight (the tour ends in Corner Brook, Newfoundland the first week of October) co-ordinator Bellaire says team members are starting to reflect on what the trip has meant to their own personal life journey. “No matter what preparation we did beforehand, it doesn’t really prepare you for spending six months together, and it’s been interesting to see over time how the people on the tour have become more comfortable with the choices they make,” she says.
“We’re starting to talk about what we want to do afterward, and hearing that people want to keep doing similar work or keep working with Otesha is very fulfilling. It feels like this tour has done what it set out to do—change the lives of 15 people in a really big way.”
The Otesha Project Coast2Coast Tour team is givinga presentation Thursday September 22, at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, 1675 Lower Water Street, 7 pm, free.