“Like Peace Corps Training, but without the Classroom Lectures”
By Guest Contributor on Wednesday, February 20th, 2013
National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) board member Kate Schachter (Ghana 2004-07) 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.
Flying into Santiago, Dominican Republic was a perfect way to get a quick overview introduction to the country. The palm trees lining the airport offset the mountains behind, and I knew I was far from Wisconsin winter. Customs was a breeze, the Next Step Travel guide, Dave Addison, was waiting for Courtney and I (unknown to either of us, we shared the plane), and we got to know each other while waiting for Yon and Patty, arriving two hours later. Cubano sandwiches and a cold beer at the airport were just the ticket for the waiting game, and our excitement at being in-country made the time go fast. Courtney and I enjoyed the warm Dominican weather soaking into our dry skin.
During the two-hour trip over the mountain to La Mariposa, our Home Base on the north coast of Cabarete, we stopped for fresh fruit at a roadside market, and fresh coconut milk – with straws provided for our organic “juice boxes.” Anyone who has read Julia Alvarez’s “In the Time of the Butterflies” will understand the special significance of butterflies (mariposa) in the Dominican Republic.
The Next Step travel program is meant to provide a glimpse of Peace Corps service, and our group consists of RPCVs, “thinking about it” applicants, and adults with an adventurous spirit. The promise of “service travel” was so well done in the Discover Corps connection with NPCA, that the non-RPCVs thought they were joining a mini-version of a live Peace Corps experience. And that is as it should be.
We were still three people shy when we left for our first service work project at a public school that runs an after-school and weekend support program for young girls. Tricia is the director of the Mariposa DR Foundation (mariposadrfoundation.org) that supports multiple programs to empower girls in the greater vicinity of Cabarete. She has been doing this work for 22 years, so that now some of the girls are attending the same program as their mothers. Our assignment at the school was to do some painting on the courtyard wall, scrub the shelving, and clean the wooden Venetian blinds in preparation for painting. Have you ever tried to translate an American nursery rhyme into another language? Try this version!
Ese es como pintamos la pared, pintamos la pared, pintamos la pared
Ese es como pintamos la pared, lo hagamos en domingo
(This is the way we paint the wall…we do it on a Sunday…)
Our group of eight adults and ten children made short work of the project, and Cheryl brought out two bottles of nail polish to have a manicure party with the girls. The purple polish followed by glitter were a big hit, and they returned the favor by polishing some of our nails.
Dave is a great travel host, and his partner, Jane Rogers, keeps the food flowing and backs up the tour guide duties. From them we get a good sense of the culture and politics of the country, and they invite guests to stop in during the evenings to join us for dinner and talk about the things we’ll be seeing and doing. Dave’s work as head of the Caribbean Sustainability Institute is a perfect backdrop for getting us involved in interesting work, and his appreciation for our need to get involved and be relaxed is a perfect mix.
The last two people for our trip arrived Sunday afternoon. We ventured out to La Bomba for outdoor merengue dancing to live music at the gas station – the right level of fun to bind us together. (The beers or rum and Coca-Cola helped loosen the group up a bit, too!).
For me, the trip feels like Peace Corps training – but without the classroom lectures. It’s all hands-on, direct work, with lots of cultural stimulus. At the end of the day, we wind down at our comfortable quarters in La Mariposa, charged up for the next day of exploration and involved learning.