Vacation with a Social Impact
By Guest Contributor on Tuesday, February 26th, 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.
When you plan a vacation, do you think about what impact you have on the community you enter? It could be environmental impact, certainly…hotels that minimize laundry of sheets and towels, as a starter. It could be economic impact… tourist dollars spent. But what about social impact?
Are your tourist dollars distributed fairly to the people who live in the area? Do you get beyond the “main street” glitter and into areas that rarely see travelers but could most benefit from those dollars? Are you able to set an example of responsible tourism through your environmental concern or your willingness to dive into a project and help a community?
In the Next Step Travel program, the National Peace Corps Association has initiated a perfect partnership with Terra Education, to create Discover Corps. In the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean Sustainability Institute is added, well organized to provide accommodations, transport, social and political commentary, and opportunity to visit and work at a variety of social initiative venues.
I’d always wanted to get a hands-on feel for the bottle school concept I’ve read so much about. On Monday, February 18, we traveled to La Boca, and divided into groups. One group helped lay block, sift sand for mixing concrete, and further prepare the site for a three-room schoolhouse. Another headed off to the beach – one that was situated to catch all the debris of a passing world (cruise ships) through tidal currents, as well as trash from the island and other countries – to collect plastic bottles. After lunch (our Dominican Republic favorite: rice, beans, chicken, salad), we all headed to another section of the beach for further bottle collection. At the end of the workday, we could see progress, and more of our tour dollars had gone to the workers and cooks of the village, as well as the supplies to do the work.
Our trip on Tuesday, February 19, was to Ascension, a community of Haitian refugees. They had been moved from the batey, a sugar company plantation, into slightly better housing. They are effectively prisoners in the village, without passport or papers, which were taken from them when they entered the country to work the sugar fields. Haitian children who are born in the Dominican Republic are stateless, without Haitian or Dominican birth certificates. The relationship between the two cultures is strained. But it is the Haitians who cut the cane, and make sugar a cost-effective export for the corporations.
Our goal for the day was to work with the community members in their garden, and deliver water purifiers to two homes (purchased with our travel fees). We enjoyed the men and boys who helped in the garden, and we all ran for cover when a brief tropical storm hit. The sun quickly dried us out, and we continued with our work. Afterward, we took the opportunity to purchase handicrafts, to provide a bit more support to a wonderfully warm group of people.
Wednesday, February 20, was part play, part learning, focusing on existing Peace Corps projects. We went to 27 Charcos, and our mettle was tested by who was willing to jump into the pools instead of slide down the rock chutes. Overall, it was a beautiful hike up, and a cooling descent, with guides who enjoyed being tricksters, making the whole event playful.
We then went to Higuito, to visit with Peace Corps Volunteer Scott. His homestay mother made us our favorite meal (see above), and we checked out the biomass stove project that he is working on.
Our Thursday, February 21 trip was to Cano Dulce, to work on another bottle school project. This was well underway, and our goals were to paint the interior walls and “help” pour the cement floor in two rooms of the six-room schoolhouse. Actually, our only help on the floors was moral support for the Dominican workers who were much better prepared for that project than we were. One of the highlights of this trip was a walk through the cacao (cocoa) trees to the bee hives in sections of logs that a man named Johnny maintains. He makes amazing honey that has been bottled and is being sold as “Johnny Bee Good.” The honey from mango, cacao, and many many tropical flowers is incredibly flavorful. This ain’t no clover honey!
Most days end with a stop at the Cabarete Beach, often just around happy hour time, for mojitos or fresh-juice Pina Coladas. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and Jill a dull girl. There are no dull people in our group. We’re having a great time together!
> > 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.