Land, ho! The Fathom Adonia pulled into Amber Cover, Puerto Plata after departing the Port of Miami two days before. It was the third sail for Fathom, the newest cruise ship in the Carnival line, that offers passengers the opportunity to not only relax and have fun on vacation but to also “travel with a purpose” by providing community service in the Dominican Republic. Traveling with a purpose was a first for me. Since I made a promise to myself to be more socially impactful in 2016, this trip was a perfect a perfect fit.
Fathom Travel has partnered with two established nonprofits, IDDI and Entrena, in the Dominican Republic, to assist rural and urban community projects. During two days of sailing and training sessions, Fathom Impact guides talked us through the impact activities and enlightened us on the best ways to work alongside people in the community. Read more about the impact activities and our sail here. Now, that we’ve arrived, it’s time to get to work!
However, the question remained; how much of a difference could I make in three days, spending only a few hours working? After docking, we boarded our activity bus and met our on the ground guides. I signed up for the Reforestation & Nursery, Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative and Student English and Conversation & Learning activities. Our first stop was getting dirty planting trees in the Reforestation & Nursery impact activity, our chance to make a difference in the rainforest, one tree at a time!
Reforestation & Nursery
On Tuesday afternoon, after docking in Puerto Plata, our group met up with our IDDI guide Ezequiel and headed to Mount Isabel de Torres, a national monument. The mountain known for its enormous statue of Christ rises 2,600 above sea level. At the base of the mountain, a representative from the Department of Environmental Ministry greeted and gave us a brief history of how erosion is claiming the Dominican Republic’s environment and rainforest. When it comes to reforestation, our help was greatly needed. This city girl does not have a much of a green thumb, but I was ready to give it a try. We broke up into three groups of twelve, and each team was tasked with either digging up seedlings, putting soil in small plastic bags and transporting them to the nursery. The team in the nursery took the plastic bags of soil to plant, oak, mahogany and cedar seedlings and seeds. We rotated each assignment during three hours. Before long, we had a quick moving assembly line working in the garden.
Another group of Fathom Travelers will plant the seeds in a forest region. Three hours later, our guide told us we had planted 1005 seedlings and seeds. He told us that three weeks into the program, 6,000 seeds had already been planted. With Fathom sailing to the island twice a month, that is quite a social impact. In forty years, a tree that I helped plant will stand in the Dominican Republic’s rainforest. Cool! I was impressed!
Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative
After a day to rest and explore, where fellow blogger Lora Wiley-Lennartz and I visited Brugal rum factory, we were off to the another social impact activity at Chocal, a Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative. The cooperative in, Altamira, was started in 2007 by 30 women in search of a way to earn a living while making time for their families. Before the cooperative, work if any, meant traveling long distances, leaving little time for family life. When our group arrived, several of the original founders of the cooperative were on hand to welcome us. The room smelled of delicious chocolate and the ladies presented us with a cup of creamy, sweet hot chocolate to get our day started. I believe it’s the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted!
A tour of the cooperative included an explanation of the chocolate production process from cacao tree bark to chocolate bar. The cacao is grown on trees, dried in the sun and sorted before being grounded. While the ladies use machines for grounding the cacao, much of the work is still done by hand, and that’s where we were helpful. In 20-30 minute intervals, we separated good beans from bad ones and sifted through the chocolate nibs to make sure they were free of shells. It took a while for our novice eyes to get the hang of spotting the good from the bad ones, but our guide was a pro and helped us out. Once the chocolate was ready, we learned the proper way to pour into a mold. After a few minutes of refrigeration, the chocolate was ready for packing and sale.
Later we learned that we impacted the cooperative’s productivity by doing the menial work, freeing up the skilled workers to do other things. The group was delighted to have us around and thanked us with a home cooked Dominican lunch of rice and pork, seasoned eggplant, stirred fried vegetables and black beans. Yum! This was a wonderful way to spend my morning in the Dominican Republic. Thanks, ladies!
Student English and Conversation & Learning
On Friday morning, hours before we sailed, bloggers Lora, Vicki, Michele and I joined the social impact activity group for Student English and Conversation & Learning where we met with 5th grade students to assist them in learning and practicing their English. The class of 10 year old boys and girls greeted us with a lively song and high fives as we entered the classroom. Once we introduced ourselves, we broke up into small groups and began working with the kids on the English alphabet and numbers. In our first group, Heidi and Leticia, were superstars. They quickly picked up from where they left off from past English lessons to pronounce and identify letters and numbers almost perfectly. For Spanish speakers, the English sounds that are hard to pronounce include the letter V/B sound, G sound and the Th sound. The number five, thirteen, and thirty can be challenging. With each correct answer, Lora, Michelle and I were there to give both girls positive reinforcement with a smile or high five.
After 45 minutes, it was time to switch it up. This time Lora, Michele and I each had a student. I partnered up with Jeremy (left in the photo) who has quite a personality; smart, inquisitive and full of energy. It turns out he wanted to be a teacher as well as a student. Midway through our session Jeremy told me in Spanish, via the Entrena guide, he wanted to learn English but also teach me Spanish words. So, that’s exactly what we did. He practiced his numbers and coached me through a few Spanish words. By the end, I had a new buddy, and Jeremy had learned to take a selfie.
The time went by quickly, and I wanted more time to teach. At the close of both sessions, we were asked to write progress notes in kid’s school binders. This way, the next Fathom Traveler can pick up where we left off. Although our time together was brief, I hope I made an impact. I know for sure, they made an impact on me. By the way, I have been home for two weeks, and I still smile when I think about the kids.
Disclosure: I was invited to cruise for a purpose. Thanks, Fathom Travel for providing this impact + travel opportunity. As always, opinions are my own. If you would like to travel with Fathom, click here and use the insider code 1530 to save on your next booking.
Emmy-nominated network television producer Deborah Mitchell is a veteran of ABC and CBS News, a member of the Producers Guild of America, and a board member of the James Beard Broadcast and Media Awards Committee. Through Deborah Mitchell Media Associates, she will create your online personality with a customized website, book you on the right television show, manage your social media profiles, and connect you with the best and brightest digital influencers. Deborah is a weekly contributor for Entrepreneur.com and author of So You Want To Be On TV. You can follow Deborah @SocialTVDeb and/or email SocialTVDeb@gmail.com.