Words of wisdom from a nine year old:
At the end of the week we gathered once more with our cohort groups on board to debrief and share our experiences. As part of the exercise we were to write notes of encouragement that would be given to the next set of passengers going to the Dominican Republic for impact work. The above quote is what my youngest munchkin wrote (sorry for the spelling - she is only nine).
As I sat down to write my review of our family's trip for you, I was prepared to tell you about and share pictures of the ship, the meals (I'm a foodie with an addiction, what can I say), the amazing organic wine list on board (let's not call this one an addiction OK? Humor me), and all of the other things that wowed me about this trip. I even had half of it written before we left the ship. Then, the one sentence note above was written by my daughter, and now this article is going to look much different from what I had originally planned.
You see, it was still a vacation, after all. It wasn't all work and no play. However, when I thought about WHY we decided on this trip being the perfect one for our kids, it drove home the fact that it had, indeed, served its purpose. Our purpose was to go. Our purpose was to serve. Our purpose was to give and grow and be stretched. To learn about other cultures, their real struggles, and how we could come alongside them and not sympathize, but empathize with them and help, in our own small way, to improve their quality of life and show them love.
We selected three of the many impact activities. It was hard to narrow down, but in the end we selected the concrete floors, the Chocal chocolate factory because, well, CHOCOLATE, and Repapel, a paper making cottage industry for women artisans to be gainfully employed in their own neighborhood and be able to provide for their families.
There were many others to choose from. Some of the other offerings are reforestation, working with both adults and children on their English speaking skills, making water filters that supply fresh drinking water for up to 8 people per day, kid sports and and arts day camps, and helping to control beach erosion. All good and worthy causes, but we were only in port for a few days. However, my children have all begged me to to go back at least once more this spring. They couldn't get enough. I guess there is more to a vacation than zip lines, kid clubs, beach days, and general self indulgence, and I'm beyond happy that my children took it to heart and grew as individuals from this experience.
You see, there is one thing about the people from the Dominican Republic that struck all of us. They are full of love, peace, joy, acceptance, and happiness. It doesn't matter how much or how little they have. They share an amazing sense of community and family, and care for one another in ways that are foreign to our Western way of thinking. The day our group poured concrete floors for a family's home, not only they, but neighbors, friends and family members came to spend the day helping. There was nothing in it for them. It wasn't their house or their duty to help or serve this family. But, the sense of community and family drove them to give. What an amazing thing to see modeled. The big takeaway for my kids was their willingness to share, and their ability to be joyful, truly joyful, completely apart from their current life or monetary circumstances.
Over the course of our time there, here is the impact our group made in the community:
1,978 seedlings planted in the nurseries
1,150 seedlings planted from the nursery into the Dominican soil
179 pounds of cocoa nibs sorted and cleaned
5,128 cacao products packaged and prepared for sale
1,185 sheets of paper produced
7 homes now have concrete flooring
23 people live in safer homes with an improved quality of life
67 water filters produced
335 will consume clean, safe water
17 visits by 44 travelers provided direct interaction and English instruction
In spite of these great accomplishments by the Fathom travelers the week we were there, I was very sad to learn that Fathom is being pulled from the market and will only continue to sail through the end of May. Apparently, it isn't profitable enough. It was given only a year to prove itself as a viable segment in the marketplace. However, until the end of May you can still experience this wonderful vacation option. And, Fathom will continue to host impact activities as excursion for travelers from other cruise ship lines in the Amber Cove Port of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. My children are begging to go back at least once more before it is shut down. But don't worry, even though this option will soon be going away, there are plenty of other voluntourism opportunities in the marketplace. You really can make an impact with your travel.
Impact travel does change lives, and often, it's yours. Life is short.
Stop dreaming. Start going.