Youthful Reasons and Dreams

Otesha means “reason to dream” in Swahili. In button-down Ottawa and in hundreds of schools and community centres and parks across Canada, it has come to stand for how youth can grow hope and planetary stewardship right in their own bedrooms, backyards, school grounds or streets. Otesha means sustainability, usefulness, vision, good humour and a whole lot more, as my jam-packed living room found out last night.

The co-founder of Otesha, original “hopeful hooligan” Jessica Lax, is a 24-year-old crusader that my bride fell bike-over-compost in love with. You can find out what Otesha does and how it began – in the hearts of two Canadian kids who became brilliantly conscious of the oneness of humanity – by letting your mouse do the walking here.  Here’s what my family said in inviting friends and neighbours (and neighbours of friends) to listen to Jess’s story:

Otesha  is one of the coolest and most exciting things going on – by youth, for youth, and for a world of hopefulness and positive change….Jessica Lax, an Ottawa girl, found herself sitting under a tree in Kenya with Jocelyn Land-Murphy, another Canuck. Each was a university biology student, each was involved in the Canadian Field Studies in Africa program, and neither could see herself going back to Canada and resuming ‘life as usual’. They had been changed by their experience, and they wanted to BE THE CHANGE that they felt was required to make a healthy world. They loved the Swahili word ‘otesha’…and they gave it to the project that they dreamed up under that tree: ‘to enable and empower our generation to take action towards a sustainable future.’ Jess and Joss saw the global environmental crisis, the disparity between rich and poor societies, and the overconsumption – of energy, of goods, of everything – in their own communities back home. They formed Otesha as a way to help young people to be aware without despair, to see what was happening and not feel powerless about it. ‘We knew we wanted to present this message to schools across Canada,’ says Joss, ‘and we knew we didn’t want to drive more cars to do it!’ 

So they returned to Canada with transformed ideas about EVERYTHING – from diet to clothing, from education to entertainment – and a determination to act on what they had learned…

And as if that wasnt’ enough, Julie Séléger of the Ottawa Bahá’í community added to the mix! She danced her way through Europe with a youthful company called Diversity Dance Theatre, volunteers from around the world offering dramatic representations of social ills and clear-eyed looks at solutions to them. Julie has also volunteered as a neighbourhood school teacher in Haiti, part of a worldwide “youth can move the world” ethos spreading like wildfire in the Bahá’í community. Amazing stuff all ‘round, and about 30 teens and twenties filled our house with light as they talked about it all. Hopefulness came down like rain. It was sweet and good, sometimes sombre, frequently funny. What could be better?