Next Step Travel Participants Roll Up Their Sleeves in the Dominican Republic
By Guest Contributor on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013
(National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) board member Sharon Keld (Morocco 2006-08,
Peace Corps Response Philippines 2009-10, Peace Corps Response Armenia 2011 — pictured above, third from right) is currently in the Dominican Republic, serving as the NPCA’s host for the our Next Step Travel trip. While there, she’ll serve as a resource about the NPCA and also provide photos and updates on this trip that takes participants beyond the usual tourist destinations.)
We arrived on Thursday, December 27, and were greeted by Dave, the program manager, Jane, his wife, and Bridget, representing Discover Corps. Dave has been managing volunteer groups in the Dominican Republic for four years now and has relationships with a variety of NGOs and with Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). It’s great that we’ll be seeing a variety of projects and villages –other volunteer trips have you working on the same project or with the same people the entire time. We were quickly reminded that things are different in the developing world and of how much we take for granted — tap water that we can drink, hot water in the showers, toilets that flush everything including the paper, electricity 24 hours a day (well, most of the time). The home base we were supposed to use lost its roof in Hurricane Sandy, so we’re in a hotel on the beach in Cabarete, on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. Our hotel has unlimited drinkable water, warmish showers, and so far we haven’t lost power, but it’s early. And who needs air conditioning when you can open a balcony door and hear the rolling surf at night?
Our first morning was spent at the Mariposa Foundation (mariposadrfoundation.org). This NGO helps adolescent girls from one of the poor barrios near Cabarete. We met the director and her staff (including, no surprise, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) and heard about the plans for the organization. They focus on girls in order to break the cycle of generational poverty. They had recently bought the building — a former hotel that was turned into a school — and are turning it into a community center for the girls, where they’ll learn crafts, business skills, languages, sports and more. There will also be space for short- and long-term volunteers. First, though, all of the rooms needed to be painted. We got to work and finished more rooms than expected in less time than expected – two coats! Everyone found a niche – scraping, edging, rolling, rolling with a pole, cleaning up after those who dripped paint on the tile floor, washing out the rollers and brushes – and people formed and re-formed groups, swarming from room to room.
Because it was our first day and several of the group members had flown overnight to arrive the prior afternoon, Dave, our program manager, took it easy on us and gave us the afternoon off! Some of the group wandered the street and small shops of Cabarete. Others found a beverage or snack at the restaurants that line the beach. And most of us found the beach — sunny and warm and not too humid and with a nice breeze. Cabarete is the kite-surfing capital of the world – watching these colorful kites and the occasional windsurfer or paddleboarder was a treat. As was the ocean — the perfect temperature. We’ll have a little beach time every day but this was the most we’ll have, and it was lovely.
That evening we introduced ourselves to each other. We have quite a mixed group, since this was advertised as a family-friendly trip. The members range in age from age 13 to 80 and come from the Northeast, out West, the South, and one person came from Taiwan! There’s a family group of eight (mom, dad, four teenage girls, aunt, aunt’s stepdaughter), a son-mother-grandmother combo, a teenage daughter-mother combo, an RPCV daughter-mother combo. A few members are neither RPCV nor family – they were looking for holiday “voluntourism” opportunities and found us on the Internet. But since this is an NPCA trip, everyone learned about the NPCA, and then each of the RPCVs spoke about their experiences (no trouble getting them to talk about that; it was harder to get them to stop!). Our group includes people who served in the ’60s, ’70s, ’00s and ’10s, in the Philippines, Vanuatu, St. Vincent, Sierra Leone, Morocco and Armenia. And now our group includes many potential future PCVs as well (not to mention future members of Friends of the Dominican Republic).
And were you wondering about the food? It’s delicious! We were told we’d have a Western meal by the end of the trip, but everything else is Dominican. Breakfast consists of fresh tropical fruit, toast with honey, various cheeses, and eggs with spices. Dinner is usually chicken, flavorful rice with beans, a colorful potato salad, and a mixed green salad. Lunch varies each day, usually cooked by the village women. Everything tastes delicious – especially when served outside, and especially when you’ve put in a full day! The fruit punch is refreshing, and the Dominican coffee and spicy hot chocolate are muy bueno!
> > See more photos from this Dominican Republic Next Step Travel trip HERE.
Learn how you can join future Next Step Travel programs in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala: travel.peacecorpsconnect.org.