Sometimes, you can’t even imagine it until you experience it.
I’m not even really sure where to begin with describing my one week adventure with Fathom to the Dominican Republic (DR) with my dear friend Peggy. I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do; give back while on vacation (also known as voluntourism or impact travel). It’s also near impossible to put all of the emotions and experiences into words… I hate to say it, but you kind of had to be there. But, stick with me and I’ll do my best to convey my journey.
Just to give you a brief overview, Fathom travels every other week to the Dominican Republic for a one-week long cruise leaving out of Miami. The first two days are spent at sea on the way to the DR, the next three full days are spent docked at Amber Cove on the north side of the island, and then the last two days are spent back at sea on the way back to Miami.
I’m not really a cruise person (I’ve been on one before and wasn’t really a fan), but this cruise is very different from your average cruise to the Caribbean. The days at sea are spent learning about the DR, the culture, the impact activities you will partake in, Spanish lessons and in-depth sessions on uncovering your own personal truth. Don’t get me wrong, you can also sit by the pool, sip a daiquiri and enjoy all the other on-board activities. That’s the great thing about life on the Adonia (the name of the ship)…it’s all up to you on how you spend your time. I have to say that it was nice to have more meaningful activities to fill our time, even while we enjoyed the warm summer sun and relaxing on the balcony of our cabin reading a book.
I knew I would have three full days to split my time evenly between volunteering in several activities of my choice as well as playing in the hot DR sun. And you know that I took complete advantage of doing both of those to the max! For this post, I’m going to focus just on the volunteer activities I participated in so you can get an idea of the one of the real reasons I went on this trip to begin with.
And, I feel like I should share this little tidbit upfront too; I’m normally a pretty positive, open person, but even I admittedly went into these volunteer activities a little skeptical with how much I could really change or make an impact on the people of the DR. I mean, how much can you accomplish in just a few short hours at each impact activity? Well, read on and I hope you will have a more clear answer by the end.
Community English– For this impact activity we actually went into the homes of locals and taught English. We first met at a local community center where we did some ice-breakers and then were paired off to go into a local’s home. Because there were more of us volunteers than locals, it ended up being three of us volunteers to go to one house. It worked out great though because when we arrived at the house, there already 5 others there waiting for the English lesson. And, more came later! I ended up working with two women, Juanita and Dwana, teaching them how to say body parts in English. Seeing that I speak pretty much zero Spanish, I was truly humbled by trying to teach how to pronounce words like hand, feet and ears in English to people who don’t necessarily use the same consonants that we do. At times I felt frustrated by the language barrier, but I also needed to exercise patience as Juanita and Dwana kept repeating words to get them correct. Over the course of an hour and half, we did this lesson on body parts, but also reviewed previous lessons they had learned on shapes, colors and numbers. By the end, we developed a better understanding of each other and found our rhythm and I could tell that they both were so grateful with the opportunity to learn and develop their English skills. I also realized that this was a much tougher task than I thought it would be, and it taught me a new level of patience and appreciation to learn something so completely outside of what you know. It’s funny because I thought I was teaching them something, but they actually taught me more.
Concrete Floors– I hadn’t intended on doing this activity, but because some of the other activities I wanted to do were full, I did this one by default. And, oh the irony…this activity was probably the most impactful one of them all. Why you ask? Because when we arrived, we saw a home with a dirt floor and when we left 3 hours later, this home now had a concrete floor. BOOM. I saw with my own eyes and felt with my own heart the true impact of creating a real home for this young couple and their son and they just could not thank us enough. They said that their three-year old son now had a safe and clean environment to play and grow up in, and it would not have been possible without our help, support, time and dedication. They saved up for over 3.5 years to build this house on their own (out of basically deconstructed wood crates that vegetables are delivered in) where the most costly part was the tin roof. I mean, how do you not feel completely moved by that? It made passing heavy buckets of concrete in 100+ degree weather seem so trivial. All I know is that this activity was a HUGE reminder to not take anything for granted and to also know that this family now has what they can call a home with a beautiful floor. And, that, I will always be touched by.
Creative Arts, Music and Sports (CAMS)– For this activity we went to a local elementary school and partook in doing a half day summer camp with kids since they were already on their summer break. When we arrived at the school we did an icebreaker and then were immediately paired up with one kid to do an English lesson. I was working with Isaac (who was probably about 12 years old) and even though his reading and speaking skills were quite advanced, there was still a language barrier between us. About fifteen minutes into the session, he kept asking me something in Spanish that I could not understand, so I had one of the teachers come by to translate what he was asking. Turns out he was asking if I was going to come back tomorrow to work with him. Wow! I was shocked that he was already developing such a bond with me in such a short amount of time (tug at heart-strings here). In a way, I felt like it made the rest of our time that much more special since I knew he really felt connected to me. After our English lesson the entire group went outside and played baseball in the school’s activity court. It was a fun way to interact with more students and do something physical. The time flew by fast and at the end, Isaac said no less than ten times to me, “Please don’t go.” I truly wish I could’ve stayed or come back again to see him and get to know him more. The connection we developed in such a short time was no less than amazing.
So, as I mentioned earlier, I was a little skeptical on how much of an impact I really thought I could make in such a short amount of time. I hope you were able to see that each activity left such an impression on me personally and in more ways than I could have ever imagined. What a special and unbelievable feeling to know that I helped others, even if it was sometimes in the smallest way possible. My trip with Fathom was exactly the kind of trip I have been wanting to take for years…something meaningful while still having fun and going somewhere new. If you have ever wanted to do something outside of your comfort zone, help others or just take a different kind of trip, I can’t recommend Fathom enough. Even us non-cruise people can get on board with something that will make you feel like doing your part to give back to those less fortunate.
Please Note: While I was invited to join for the entire week with Fathom to the Dominican Republic, all opinions are my own.