We Are Skeptics: RPCVs on their Next Step Travel trip to the Dominican Republic
By Guest Contributor on Monday, December 10th, 2012
Assumptions are challenged on the first Next Step Travel trip to the Dominican Republic
By Fran and John Kennedy
We are skeptics when it comes to organized travel. “Oh boy,” we thought, “fourteen days of over filled itineraries with bored guides all in the company of very mature adults.”
Our skepticism evaporated on the second day when we left our home base near the North Coast Dominican town of Cabarete for a trip to Ascension, a Haitian batey.
The night before, Dave Addison, the man who organized the trip for Next Step Travel, provided a detailed explanation of why the batey existed and its relationship to the sugarcane industry. He also invited a Haitian doctor to breakfast to provide additional information. The doctor and a nurse went with us to provide residents of the batey medical care. In the batey we split into three groups. One group helped with medical care intake, one group worked with villagers to install irrigation pipes to extend the village garden, and two of us worked on conversational English with children of the village.
We were done by noon and on our return stopped in a village restaurant. Throughout the entire trip Dave took great care in choosing safe, clean, local places for us to eat. When we ate out the food was great. When we ate at our home base the food was great — and either way always included in the cost of the trip.
In the next two weeks we would paint a school, work on building a school, tutor and play with students, visit with Peace Corps volunteers at educational and other projects, walk to a school in the mountains, and tour the historical part of the capital. The trip to Santo Domingo was more than touring. We had time for a long talk with the Peace Corps Director for the Dominican Republic about the history of the Peace Corps in the DR and current Peace Corps projects. We also met with the director of Oxfam for a discussion of Oxfam’s work in the DR. On the way back to our home base we picked up a water purification vase for the batey from Filter Pure. The man who designed and manufactured the vases, Rodhames Carela, explained the process and why the vase worked without the need for an additional filter. We also stopped at an environmental school that emphasized forest regeneration.
If all this sounds kind of busy for two weeks it didn’t seem that way at all. There was always time to stop and talk. No one ever seemed to be in a hurry. In the evenings there was the beach, the pool, or the bar and talk and more talk of the day’s events. (Dinner and dance at the gas station was a big hit with at least some of our group.) We even had time to monitor the U.S. elections on the New York Times 538 blog.
If you teach Dominican students or students with Dominican heritage and want to know more about their culture, we don’t believe there is a better way to spend ten or fourteen days. (Most trips can be either length.) We were at the DREAM Project in Cabarete for a day. The DREAM Project is a non-profit that emphasizes education. If you’re an educator you’ll love their effort to bring Montessori principles to preschool children in the DR. You might even find a summer volunteer home with this organization.
Next Step Travel, National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) sponsored trips, are open to anyone who is an NPCA member. We have a friend, Rob, who is not a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. He wanted to do something outside his ‘comfort zone’ and decided to go with us. (He may be in the pictures.) He reports really enjoying the trip and doing things that he could not have imagined before the trip.
If the cost of the trip seems a little high, consider this: it’s about the same as many university alumni trips. However, with Next Step Travel, the costs of food, lodging, and transportation in the DR are completely covered. In addition, the costs of the paint, concrete blocks, concrete, dirt, and other building materials are partially paid for from your payment.
John and Fran Kennedy are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Ghana from 1965 to 1968.