Last week I had the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic with Fathom Travel as part of their pilot program. I took part in some of the activities that will be offered once sailing starts in just a little over a month, and see firsthand what the experience will look like for people choosing a travel experience whose main goal is making an impact in the destination where they are headed.
The Dominican Republic is a beautiful country, full of amazing people. The beaches are gorgeous, and it’s a place where many people head when they want a little caribbean flavor in their lives with picture-perfect turquoise water as their backdrop. You can get that in the DR quite easily. But as with many places where we often travel for vacation, there are many parts that aren’t picture-perfect postcards.
Fathom Travel was created to give travelers the opportunity to build community with like-minded travelers, become immersed in another culture, and work alongside its people to create enduring social impact.
Here is a quick overview of some of the things I had the opportunity to participate in while I was there last week:
Paper-making at RePapel
RePapel is an incredible group of 13 women who collect recycled paper and repurpose it for use in making beautiful paper products, like greeting cards, diplomas, postcards, etc. We visited their new house/workspace that they have been able to secure through the help of Fathom, and were quickly introduced to some of the most gorgeous souls I’ve ever had the opportunity to be around.
During our time there we assisted them in all parts of the paper making process. From sorting and shredding it by hand, washing it in a washing machine, blending it in a blender, creating a mold, letting it dry, and rolling it out to perfection so that it can the be created into a final product.
The constant visiting of groups of travelers stopping by and helping out on a consistent basis will make them more productive, as was the case for our visit. They will have the opportunity to partner with the cruise line and offer certain paper products to be used on the ship. But what is most significant about this partnership, is their work space. Before this partnership, these women would meet in different places every Monday to try and get work done, breaking down and re-assembling their entire production to work where they could, because they didn’t have the resources for a dedicated space. Now they do. They can stay in their communities working every day of the week, and creating a sustainable living to be able to support and care for their families over the long term. That is the real win.
Jewelry Making with a local artisan
We sat down with a woman named Carmen that makes jewelry out of coffee beans and other types of seeds. We were able to learn about her business and helped make some jewelry pieces with her. Imagine— a whole intricate necklace made out of coffee beans and giving you the gift of coffee aroma all day long!
Crafty things are not my specialty, so I do not hold it against her if mine goes in the clearance bin!
This was not only an opportunity to help her create more of her products, it’s an incredible experience to see what a day in the life is like for many of these artisans and creative people. They epitomize the entrepreneurial mindset of making the most of what they have — in her case coffee beans which are a staple in the area, and other seeds and beans that make beautiful jewelry.
Teaching community English
This impact activity started with meeting with people from the neighborhood and taking a walk through the streets to get a better sense of the area and the people who are from here. We walked with them through the dirt roads, and they pointed out different things to us that were of importance to them.
We then spent the rest of the morning in small groups teaching both women and children the very basics of English. How to greet someone, and tell them how you are and what your name is. Over and over, until hopefully a little bit stuck. Over time, following groups of travelers will build upon what we taught them and hopefully they become more proficient in a language that can have a positive impact on their future.
Working at a Local Chocolate Factory
Anything that involves the production of delicious chocolate is a win in my book. This impact activity involved experiencing a day in the life of their business, and there may or may not have been some tasting of the fruits of our labor.
Chocal provides the ability for women in the community to have opportunity for employment in the area in which they live, and this in turn has immediate and long-lasting effect on both their families and their community. By visiting their factory we increase productivity, which increases distribution, which then increases the size of business they are able to do, and this will impact the whole community. This is the long term effect of travelers spending a day making chocolate on a consistent basis.
What I loved most about the experience was the moments we sat side by side with these women, taking part in the various aspects of making a chocolate bar that is not nearly as fun or glamorous as the tasting part, and listen to them open up about who they were and why this job means so much to them. Local jobs and opportunities are not easy to come by. When the alternative is to work in some other part of the country and be away from your families for days and weeks at a time, something like this is life-changing.
These were just the few activities that I got the opportunity to be a part of. There were other impact activities happening at the same time, such as reforestation, creating and distributing water filters for houses, etc. that others got to be a part of that sounded awesome (and a little more labor intensive!). But hopefully you get a sense about the types of experiences you have when you take part in Impact Travel.
There is something powerful in being able to contribute to the development of the country, and make dramatic changes over time in these communities. If you’d like to learn more, or book one of these experiences, I would love to hear from you. Contact me to get the in on this incredible experience. You won’t regret it… promise!