Our time with fathom was, well and truly, a tremendous experience...or, better, experiences.
|fathom Impact Travel: A truly "immersive" experience...|
especially when I was temporarily stuck in the mud
while planting black mangrove trees.
- Creating a mangrove
- Teaching English
- Building Water Filters
- Installing Concrete Floors
I have to admit I didn't really know much about the Dominican Republic before I arrived other than it is terribly poor, is a place some go for really cheap all-inclusive vacations gated off from the reality of the country and, of course, is the home of the Disneyland-eque "created" Punta Cana. In short, I ignorantly wrote off the country as just another Caribbean destination like most every other one. Alas, this is why one must travel!
The Dominican Republic is actually filled with culture, charming people, a truly diverse population, and a tremendous number of things to do from the typical beach activities, to more adventurous ones to significant cultural experiences. But while all that is good, there is a lot of poverty and very basic needs that are even more striking...if you open your eyes, let your hands get dirty and allow your heart to open up beyond the pain to enjoy the people and enrich your soul.
And because of all of those factors, there are a number of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that operate social impact programs in "The D.R." (as you may hear it referred to). Hence, the programs you are going to participate in are not newly created, cruise line-eque, tours, but legitimate socially and economically important programs that have existed, been expanded or developed by the NGOs and fathom working in close partnerships.
The Dominican Republic has recently undertaken a significant effort not only to protect, but to restore, its natural resources; rehabilitating areas that have suffered from deforestation (from cattle grazing and farming...including numerous areas where sugar cane used to be important), but also encroachment by the ever increasing population. Our project was focused on the latter.
Our group of about 10 arrived at a squatters shanty town adjacent to a former golf course (now occupied by some cows and garbage) that has been expanding into a national park. The government created a barrier consisting of a creek (really a moat) with the squatters on one side and grasslands on the other. Our job: Plant 125 black mangrove trees on the park side. (If we had another 10 people, they could have engaged in a less physical, but equally relevant, garbage removal program and placement of receptacles.)
|Separating an encroaching squatter's village on a|
national park by building a creek and creating a mangrove
|Black Mangrove trees ready for fathom guests to plant|
|Working with the local people adds a real dimension to|
the work...truly making it "social" while having a real "impact"
After our work was done we headed to a small nursery where we sorted plants and assisted in making potting bags for new plantings.
|Not all of the fathom projects are physically challenging.|
Here my daughter is making up potting bags for new plantings
|fathom Impact Travel provides a real Dominican dining experience...|
not the typically expected box lunch
It was then time to "teach". Our host, Caren, actually spoke some English so I made the executive decision to work with her thirteen year old son and his friend, who my daughter and I met during our walk and had been working in Caren's colmado. (Most other participants worked in homes - a good experience for sure - but since someone had to mind Caren's store we worked there.)
It was a blast! Fortunately I know enough Spanish to fake it (and fathom gives you a Spanish 101 card on the back of your name tag) and I also know teenage boys and how they might try to cheat. And, of course, I could tell Caren to stop cheating by telling them the answers! Believe it or not, the boys were charming, fully engaged, and not only had fun, they actually learned some English.
If you don't believe it, Caren gave my daughter her telephone number, invited her to come back and stay with her and asked me if I could contact her on What's App. You can make a difference in a very short period of time...and Caren, her son and his friend made a lasting difference on me and my daughter too!
|Ceramic Water Filters: |
A simple and elegant solution to a very serious health problem
While there, dependent on what is needed that day, you engage in four or five different activities. We sifted the sawdust (which needs to be particularly fine as when it is burned off in the firing process the 0.3 micron pores in the clay are created allowing the water to slowly flow (killing the bacteria while not allowing the parasites or their eggs to pass through),
created the filters using an hydraulic press (and a bit of technique smoothing the filters),
cleaned, documented, tested and packed the kiln-dried filters
|Cleaning the water filters with a bleach solution|
|Cataloging filters, making boxes, etc. is quick work |
when a team approach is used
The fifth activity was just fun, using a potter's wheel to make a pot...or at least trying to.
|It's not all work!|
|Working together to create something beautiful and useful|
is really the theme of fathom Impact Travel
Again, this is not a "make work" program (though I am sure using the hydraulic press probably is, but is also essentially for you to understand the process). If one person is cleaning, writing down each filter's number and packing them, it would be very time consuming. With our group, we had one person cleaning, a second writing down the filter numbers, a third making boxes, a fourth writing the numbers on the the box and the worker packing the boxes. (We rotated so everyone did everything.) The same concept with emptying the kiln and sifting the sawdust.
Another serious problem in the Dominican Republic is the lack of flooring in homes. Many of the shanty houses have dirt floors that have water rise through them and which get soaked during rains and flooding, with no way for them to dry out or be cleaned. This leads to mosquitoes, pests and overall unsanitary conditions...and thus otherwise avoidable illnesses.
|Concrete floors being installed.|
Note:This house is not under construction; this is how it has been lived in for years.
Her neighbor was also an elderly woman who was so excited that her friend was finally also getting a concrete floor that insisted that her water be used to make the concrete. So before we even started our hearts were touched.
Working with an NGO and a local contractor, this is clearly a project of "many hands make light work" though it was a good workout! A pile of sand and bags of cement were already on site and then were instructed how to measure and mix them to make concrete. With a wheelbarrow too large to fit in this small house, there was a "bucket brigade" bringing the concrete into the house while others continued to make large batches of it, supplying the contractor who did the actual floor installation.
First, the quality of your accommodations will be superior on the fathom's Adonia. For this testing of the social impact programs, we were put up at the all inclusive Lifestyles Holiday Village with VIP status. It is a large gated tourist enclave which is rated four stars on TripAdvisor (my favorite source for wildly inaccurate travel information). Fortunately, I was not there for, and didn't really care about, my accommodations. That said, aside from the rooms being extremely basic (ex. my room had huge cracks in the bathroom tiles and a hanging shoe bag to put my folded clothes while my daughter's ceiling leaked as did her tub and she had little hot water), the food was poor and extremely limited, getting into any of the VIP restaurants was a challenge, the liquor was watered down, the pool water was hazy, the internet was extremely limited and slow, etc., etc., etc. Remember this is a TripAdvisor Four Star property!
fathom also explained to me that the new cruise port will have many activities, from a large pool, shops, lounges, etc., as well as a huge outdoor movie screen (you will even be able to lounge in the pool and watch movies), the port area only being available to fathom guests in the evenings. Thus you will have both a cruise and resort experience; another "bonus".
Second, you will be safe. While there are many wonderful people and I never felt the least bit unsafe, the Dominican Republic is extremely poor and crime is an issue in many places. Tourists can be targets for violent crime; hence virtually every resort being gated. Remember, the people you are helping are not criminals and your efforts to improve the Dominican Republic's economy and social issues will help reduce crime in addition to the illnesses associated with poverty, environmental decline, etc.
Third, there is no program like fathom Impact Travel; especially those that grandparents and teenagers alike can enjoy together. One of the most difficult logistics is finding ways for multiple generations to share common experiences. Whether it is Dad hauling tiles while his daughter sifts sawdust or Grandma is sitting under a tent with a cool drink watching her grandchildren reforest an area or Mom and son are teaching English together, fathom's program allows for shared experiences.
And, of course, if the family wants to have something great to talk about over meals, there will be no shortage of topics!
If you would like more information about fathom Impact Travel, its ship Adonia or the overall program, you can call or email. Of course you can also read my two prior articles:
United States: (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom: 020 8133 3450
Australia: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585
Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.