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Otesha Project carving niche in community

By Kristen Smith, Special to QMI Agency

The Otesha Project’s water works tour performs Cycling Through Change, spreading environmental education through Ontario communities in the fall. 
Submitted photo

The Otesha Project’s water works tour performs Cycling Through Change, spreading environmental education through Ontario communities in the fall. Submitted photo

ORILLIA - 

The cancellation of Katimavik earlier this year left hundreds of young Canadians looking for other volunteer opportunities.

The Otesha Project, a national, Ottawa-based charity, is trying to help fill the gap.

Communication co-ordinator Kira Burger said the project is reaching out to those who would have otherwise participated in Katimavik’s nine-month volunteer program.

The federal government cut funding to the 35-year-old program in March.

“The Otesha Project runs experiential learning opportunities in the form of bicycle tours,” said Burger.

“A group of volunteers travel from community to community by bicycle and they deliver programming in schools to youth about the way daily actions have an impact in the world and how we can have a more positive impact on other people and the planet,” Burger explained.

The cycling tour spent a couple of days in Orillia in October. The group focused on water issues and made stops at the Orillia Youth Centre, Georgian College and Twin Lakes Secondary School.

Teacher Valerie Schell saw the impact of the presentation on the school’s Green Team. She said the youth talked about active transportation and environmental sustainability in an engaging way and the youth project gave the school club faith its cause was on the right track.

“They also showed some of the senior students opportunities for them to share their knowledge and give of themselves to a cause,” said Schell.

“It gave them an opportunity to see what some other young people are doing,” she said, noting the presentation inspired a “Buy Nothing Day” at the school.

Burger said the Otesha Project could be the right opportunity for youth who are looking for personal or professional development outside of the classroom.

She said the non-profit is expanding its four-tour program to include more available seats and it is willing to expand further if the need is apparent.

She said the organization, which partnered with Katimavik for a number of years, has been affected by the cancellation on an organizational level.

Burger noted the programs are different, but share a common ground.

“Both programs are geared toward getting youth together and provide them with personal-growth opportunities,” Burger said, adding youth are exposed to new places and gain an appreciation for community engagement and giving back.

“The Otesha Project can’t claim to be a replacement for Katimavik, nor would we want to be,” she said. “We’re very hopeful the Katimavik program will be reinstated.”

In Orillia, 16 local organizations lost hundreds of volunteer hours with the loss of the program this year.

Burger noted while Otesha’s tour participants do not provide similar services, the group is working with a handful of communities to put local Katimavik programs in place.

Orillia Youth Centre director Kevin Gangloff said he appreciated how the Otesha youth shared their message and learned something from each community.

“I really like the idea because it’s about empowering young people to get out and make a difference,” said Gangloff.

He noted Katimavik and Otesha are different, yet similar.

He said both aim to help young people learn outside of the classroom.

“You’re learning about your communities, you’re learning about your province, you’re learning about your country; what a cool opportunity that is to continue learning, but in a different method,” said Gangloff.

kristen.smith@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @journokristen


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