Sunday July 11, 2010

Feature Story


A Community In Motion

Otesha group is cycling for recycling

Craig Hill/Voice


                                                                                                                                    Craig Hill/Voice photos

Otesha Project actors perform for audience at Cultus Lake on Tuesday.


here is art for art's sake and there is art for earth's sake, but at Cultus Lake Tuesday, there was cycling for recycling.


Reduce, reuse, recycle and ride. That's the theme for a group of thirteen athletic thespians riding from Vancouver to Regina as part of traveling public environmental awareness campaign who perform eco-plays that educate and entertain.


The Otesha Project got it's start in Kenya in 2002 and quickly spread to other parts of the world. Their namesake, "Otesha", is a Swahili word which means "reason to dream"

Hence, their play is called "Reason to Dream", and without stage props or makeup, it depicts the 3-R's in a dramatic way that captivates audiences.


The Canadian arm of the Project is mainly youth-led, empowering and inspiring people to create changes in environmental stewardship through simple, individual and collective choices.


The "Oteshaites" range in age from 19-25 and hail from all points in Canada and the US. They are committed to a two-wheeled trek with stops along the way in 30 communities to do enviro-presentations.


Their theatrical presentations highlight, among other things, factory farms, GM crops and water conservation.


"Culture jam" wasn't used in the skit or conversation with the audience, but it was alluded to when they talked about wearing their second hand tee-shirts inside out. A small but visible statement.


Most of the time, people involved in culture jamming, make anti-consumerism statements by reconfiguring corporate logos and altering product images into "subvertisements" to get their message across.


They also use fashion statements to challenge the notion of "coolness" and the mindset that goes hand-in-hand with wanting designer and name brand logos which in some cases come from sweatshops.


To break the consumerism mould, they celebrate commemorative days like "Buy Nothing Day" and "Digital Detox Day" and hold 1960's-like virtual sit-ins on the internet.


The term "culture jammer" came out of the mid-1980s but long before that Abbie Hoffman wrote about the subversion of social hierarchy in his book called "Free." Remember that one?


The Oteshaites main message is to think alternatively in terms of how we live and treat the planet. The players and their lighthearted skit meme a lifestyle culture that includes water conservation, eating less meat, vegetarianism and organic food as healthy diet alternatives.


The play itself lasted for 45-minutes and afterward players interacted and fielded questions with about 40 parents and children sitting in the grass at the lakeside venue.


On the road, the group has an escort/support vehicle for the riders who hail from all parts of Canada. Once they reach Regina they break up and go their separate ways.


Sean Poulter and Katlyn Harris told the Voice that their trip will last 2-months.


Poulter said that they're ready for the road and will be very busy stopping at scout camps and community events in a brief time. "We've got about 4-days of riding and 21 presentations in that time."


Harris who is from Nova Scotia and goes to McGill University in Montreal, took a break from classes to do the ride. Each cyclist found out about the project a different way and then applied through the organization's website and through an interview process.


"Some people have seen an Otesha play before, and I found it online," she said.      


Before they met, they had phone conferences and heard each others voices so they weren't complete strangers when they finally hooked up in person when it was just a matter of putting a voice on a face.


"We all went through the interview process and then met up in Vancouver at the park beside the Greyhound station and we've been inseparable since," said the amiable Harris with a laugh.


The group will be taking the picturesque, but gut-wrenching Hope-Princeton highway to the Okanagan. They'll "try to avoid main highways like the Trans Canada as much as possible" she said.


Poutler, who hails from Ottawa, has a degree in mechanical engineering and after the ride will focus on sustainable energy work. "It definitely won't be defence contracting that the company I was working for was heading to," said Poulter.


"I love the challenge," he said. "The fact that we can just come together and form this mobile community, it's a really unique experience and it seems like it's been forever even though it's only been 9-days."


"We're going up over those mountains," said Harris. "I hope the trip is that good that I'll be writing a book after."


Owen Skonberg, Cultus Lake Park Board Commissioner, and his wife were among the audience at the lakeside performance. "They bicycle to do it and show the value of using muscle power as opposed to gasoline and they talk about the ways to recycle that everybody can use," he said.


Each year there will be Otesha tours coming through the Fraser Valley with different participants and different experiences to share and the lasting memories they'll take with them will be of the trip of a lifetime.


The cyclists are collecting minimal donations which helps to pay costs for the trip and any money left over goes to the Eco Village in Yarrow.


Otesha is always looking for volunteers to help and if you want to become involved visit their website at: 


See the photo gallery below.


The following schedule are dates and places where performances will take place.


Okanagan Lake, BC - Tues, July 13: Okanagan Lake (6pm)

Kelowna, BC - Wed, July 14: EECO Centre, Mission Creek Park (7pm)

Oyama, BC Thurs, July 15: Gaztke Market (7:30pm)

Vernon, BC - Fri, July 16: Veterans Hall (6pm)

Sicamous, BC - Sun, July 18: Sicamous United Church (7pm)

Revelstoke, BC - Tues, July 20: Revelstoke United Church (7:30pm)

Glacier National Park, BC - Thurs, July 22: Illecillewaet Campground (6pm)

Golden, BC - Sat, July 24: Golden Eco-Adventure Ranch (10am)

Golden, BC - Sat, July 24: Location TBA (7:30pm)

Lake Louise, AB - Mon, July 26: Lake Louse Campground (7pm)

Kananaskis County, AB - Fri, July 30: Bow Valley Campground (8pm)

Bassano, AB - Sat, Aug 7: Bassano Community Hall (7pm)




















The end of the gallery. Thanks for looking.