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Regenerative living

A new formula for integral and long lasting development work, with Daillen Culver and Leilani Yats

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Today’s episode is going to require some context for anyone who’s not familiar with the origin of this show. Back in 2017 when I started this podcast I was doing an internship with my friend and mentor Charlie Rendal on bamboo building in Lake Atitlan Guatemala. I had been traveling back and forth from Guatemala for a number of years. I had originally gone down there with a friend to learn Spanish and I ended up coming back for years to see friends and just because I love that country.
In my time there it was impossible not to get connected with all kinds of projects and initiatives to try and improve the living conditions for local people. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the second poorest in Latin America by GDP. While I understand that that’s not the only meaningful metric for quality of life, there was no ignoring the fact that the opportunities and resources that I saw in most other places I traveled and had taken for granted in my life up until then were drastically lacking in most parts of that country. For this and many other reasons which we’ll touch briefly on in today’s conversation, everywhere you go in Guatemala you’ll find Non Governmental Organizations or NGOs as well as all types of charities and aid entities claiming to work to address everything from malnutrition to ecological challenges, sanitation, infrastructure, education and everything else in between. It seemed like every foreigner who I met who wasn’t a backpacker worked for one of these groups and when my friends and I eventually bought a small plot of land and started to put down roots, we began to learn a lot about the aid industry all around us. Between rumors, first hand stories, and even my own experience it became clear that more than a small percentage of these organizations were not as altruistic as they projected. It was well known that many were fronts for money laundering. Others simply paid out large salaries for foreigners to attend events and fundraise while little worked on the ground. Stories of corrupt sequestering of funds were common, and even among these entities that were really committed to their work, I heard so much about communities having solutions forced on them with little say in the matter. Projects getting abandoned before completion, technological fixes handed over with little or no training, and so many others I could go on about.
Despite this grim picture I’m painting of the aid industry in Guate, I did get to know and make friends with a handful of people who really took the time to understand and integrate with their chosen communities before devising solutions. I got to know folks who were also putting down roots and really had some skin in the game when it came to the outcomes of their work and impact. Today I want to take a look at one in particular, called Seeds for a Future, as much for the work they’re doing as for the approach and learnings that guide their initiative.
This organization first came to my attention when my close friend Leilani reached out to put me in touch with Daillen Culver who is their director of operations. Leilani has been on the show before and she is one of the few people I know who has traveled extensively within Guatemala and has an intimate knowledge of both the good and reprehensible aid work that is happening in that country. So when she brought Daillen and Semillas para un Futuro to my attention, I knew it would be worth looking into.
In this session both Daillen and Leilani join me to talk about the simple beginnings of this project and the unique context in which it got off the ground. They help to outline the challenges that the communities they work with are facing and the long term approach to co-create solutions along with the people they collaborate with. We also cover the principles that guide the progress and decisions within the project and the external challenges that Daillen and Leilani work from outside to support.
Charity and aid work continue to be fraught with controversy and skepticism, and I will not make the assertion today that the approach that Seeds for a future is taking is the only effective one. I do however appreciate the perspective and insight that both of these women bring to such a tricky subject and I hope that it will make space to continue this conversation in future episodes as well as on the Regenerative Skills Discord Community.

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