Local environmental group rides high on support from donors

By Chris Ferguson

An exquisitely organic and second-hand table setting at Otesha's Sunday night dinner. Photo: Adam Hooper

The tables were set for Sunday afternoon tea at St. Joseph’s Parish Hall on Laurier Avenue East; each one decorated with fancy, mismatched china, hand-sewn cloth napkins made from discarded material and baskets full of organic vegan cranberry scones.

Several hundred people turned out for Organic Affair, an event put on by a local youth-run charity organization called the Otesha project Sunday night.

The organization arranges for volunteers to bike around Canada and put on theatre performances along the way, mostly for local students.

Otesha’s messages – eat locally, grow your own garden, bike to school, reduce, reuse and recycle – may not seem new, but development director Jennifer Valberg said Otesha’s presentations are a reminder of the small things people can do to make a difference.

Their message seems to be resonating, at least with the donors who pledged $21,000 on Sunday to support the group’s work. And the Otesha community believes many of the 100,000 people who’ve seen their bike tour presentations were listening, too.

Volunteers Savannah Vetter and Diana Zang outside St. Joseph's Parish. Photo: Adam Hooper

Sebastian Ramirez of Guelph recently completed an Otesha bike tour all around the Great Lakes. He told several hundred attendees at the event that he felt he was really getting through to cynical high school students because, at 19, he could relate to them.

“They were sitting there, slouched back in their chairs, trying to be too cool,” he said. “But I could see in their eyes they were watching every detail” of his group’s performances.

As for the tangible effects of Otesha’s presence, organizers have stories of small things, like neighbours tearing down a fence to build a shared garden. Or they point to the many postcards they have received from people inspired by their presentations to change a simple habit in their life, like riding their bike to school instead of driving.

For Jennifer Valberg and the rest of the Otesha crew, that’s what it’s all about.

“It’s about imagining the kind of world we want to live in and acting as if we’re in that world.”


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