Cycling Diaries: France to Canada

In 2005, Carleton alumnus Samuel Benoit’s mentor took him to the premier of a CBC documentary featuring the Otesha Project and its founders. Benoit became interested with the Otesha Project, and joined their mailing list.

“I never had the opportunity to volunteer directly or go on tour, but I’d always kind of followed it and I would run into the founders at different events, and when a job came up on their newsletter in April, just as I was doing exams I applied,” Benoit says.

The Otesha Project is a youth-led charitable organization that informs young Canadians of the impact their daily choices have on the environment. Through the use of cycling and performing tours, workshops, andThe Otesha Book: From Junk to Funk, which is “like a recipe book for action,” Benoit says, Otesha provides alternative choices for sustainable living.

“The goal is to empower young people as sustainability advocates,” Benoit says.

As programs director, Benoit organizes cycling and performing tours that travel for one to four months across Canada. The tour members consist of 10-20 volunteers aged 18-30, from across Canada and the United States.

Seven full-time staff members and the help of many volunteers run Otesha. It is financed by a variety of funders.

Benoit plans tour routes and itineraries, books performances and learning opportunities, and finds places for the team to sleep.

Tour members train for a week to learn a play to perform at various high schools and other venues along the tour.

The performance geared towards high school students is called  “The Morning Choices Play,” according to Otesha’s website. The play follows the life of a young person and covers topics such as: clothes, coffee, food, media, and transport.

“[An environmetally-minded] guide also offers a number of alternatives, and how she can participate in these processes in a positive way instead of a negative way,” Benoit says.

Benoit says believes his involvement in activities, clubs and internships outside of class secured him a job after graduation.

While attending Carleton, Benoit traveled to Ghana for an internship, was involved with the Association for Baha’i Studies, and traveled to India to pursue an environmental research project.

In 2007, Benoit graduated with a degree in environmental studies and a minor in geography. He returned to achieve his honours degree, later graduating in April 2009.

By May 2009, Benoit was working as the programs director at the Otesha Project.

“In environmental studies you study problems . . . the skills that I earned in organizing things and planning things was with internships and volunteering on campus and at the local Baha’i community . . . [At the Otesha Project] I’m working toward the problems I learned about [in environmental studies].”

The project began as a single tour that went across Canada. To date, 23 tours have rode across Canada, 400 volunteers have contributed, and 100,000 audience members have watched, Benoit says.           

“[The Otesha Project is] well known for being one of those presentations of environmental topics that actually inspires hope and energy and joy in people. . . . The downside is there, but its very empowering,” Benoit says.

Three cycling tours are planned for 2010, including the Ferocious Farm Tour: Ottawa to Toronto and back, the Coast to Capital: Vancouver to Ottawa, and the Highlands and Islands: Fredericton to Halifax.

Tour spaces are first-come, first-serve and each applicant will be interviewed. Volunteers are not expected to be athletes, but they usually become faster cyclists as the tour progresses.

Volunteers are required to fundraise the cost of their tour. The fundraising goal for the Ferocious Farm and Highlands and Islands Tour is $2,250 and the Coast to Capital is $3,900, according to Benoit. Volunteers are provided with a fundraising pack filled with innovative fundraising ideas such as clothing swaps, auctions, and dances.

Benoit says he knows Otesha is where he belongs. He says he wanted to work at Otesha because “it was something that really embodied the attitudes and ideals that I think are necessary for addressing environmental issues in Canada.”  Q