GoAbroad Interview with the Founder, Joshua Holmes
This interview was originally published on GoAbroad in August 2022
GoAbroad Interview with El Terreno Founder, Joshua Holmes
Joshua traveled to Ecuador as backpacker in 2013 and fell in love with the people, culture, and landscape. After some time in the UK, he felt restless and dissatisfied with the Western lifestyle. In 2017, Joshua bought a one-way ticket back to Ecuador & now lives with his loving Ecuadorian partner.
What inspired you to start for El Terreno?
After first living and working in Guaranda in 2017, I saw a hidden province with a richness of culture and biodiversity. I also saw a huge amount of social and environmental problems, as well as human potential. Having worked for over 15 years in a variety of fields such as creative facilitation, eco-living, renewable startups, international leadership and event management, I thought that I could help the sustainable development of the region, as well as bring more meaning and skills development to the interns, volunteers, and tourists visiting.
Me and some of El Terreno's first volunteers, mixing adobe. Aug 2021.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part is seeing the local population and visitors share and grow organically through the celebration of each others' cultures, knowledge, and world views. It's rewarding to see locals share their pride in their traditions and interns/volunteers contribute full of energy to support a worthy cause.
What advice would you tell your pre-travel self?
I say, "Joshua, trust yourself, you have a good heart and the right intentions. Life on the road will not always be easy, but it will be the making of you (and you will have some stories to tell!).
You have a purpose in this world - if you don't travel, you will never find it. And while it may take you a while to discover your true calling, it's all about the journey not the destination. Don’t worry, life is on your side!"
Taking a dive in Cuyabeno Reserve (Amazon rainforest). Jan 2022.
Why should someone choose El Terreno over competitors?
You have the chance to be a part of creating something unique, ambitious and innovative. We are bringing new approaches to development where we become co-creators of a better future in partnership with the local communities, this is distinct from many well-intentioned missionary or charitable approaches. This is a real opportunity for you to build relationships from people from other cultures, as well as make the world a better place.
What hopes do you have for the future for El Terreno?
With your help, I hope we can transform a forgotten, impoverished and ecologically endangered region of Ecuador into a flourishing natural and social ecosystem, with vibrant cultural expressions from all around the world and agriculture that works to regenerate nature, not destroy it.
Together, I hope we can create a truly global community based on positivity, celebration, action, and personal growth.
Me, my partner Karina and our baby boy, Jun 2022
What is El Terreno’s mission and how do you continue to work toward it?
As a center of cultural exchange and social innovation, we bring together local Ecuadorians and others from around the world through sustainable tourism, culture, education, and ecology – to create a more meaningful, sustainable and prosperous world. We are developing several projects including transforming a centuries-old farmhouse into a cultural center for tourism and training, researching possible micro-business opportunities and providing several volunteering/internship programmes within the community for you to contribute to!
What do you hope participants take away from your programs?
Firstly, that they feel they have made a meaningful contribution to the people of Atandahua through their time with us. Secondly, that they were able to experience new cultures through personal relationships with people from cultures that they otherwise wouldn't come into contact with.
And finally, that they develop skills and experience that they can take away and use in their future life paths.
Making friends on the Galápagos Islands. Feb 2020
Why is it important for people to travel abroad and experience new cultures?
Cultures, like with the ecosystems, are under threat - it's expected that 90% of all languages will be extinct in just 100 years. Within just a couple of generations, we could lose much of our cultural diversity that provides vital worldview tied to sustainability, belonging, and ancestry, due to increased globalization and inequality. Traveling exposes you to new cultures in a way that you can't get from a textbook, or even meeting someone from that culture in your hometown. By immersing yourself in a culture, you expand your mind about how things could be and how other people see the world.
You become more empathic, curious and most of all, accepting of differences. The world needs more of these qualities if we're going to overcome many of today's biggest social and environmental challenges. Be the change you want to see.
What does meaningful travel mean to you?
It means more than fixing up someone’s house, teaching children English or implementing a personal project. While it can be all of those things, it's important that the programme you sign up with sees the big picture of how these programmes will affect the communities in the long run.
Ask questions like, “Will locals become dependent on the help? Will practices be done ethically? Are local people paid fairly?” Many programmes have good intentions, but they can have adverse secondary effects. Meaningful travel to me means that I feel good about what I do, but also that I am aware of the impacts of my contributions on the community in the long run. Tourism has the potential to change lives for the better, but it also has the potential to displace populations, damage ecosystems and create huge inequality - do your homework.