Next Step Travelers Learn by Pitching In
By Alicia Nelson on Thursday, January 23rd, 2014
Kate Schwanhausser, our Membership and Development Assistant here at the National Peace Corps Association, recently stepped out of the office to take part in a Next Step Travel trip to the Dominican Republic. Our trips are designed with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in mind, and while Kate hasn’t had the chance to serve (yet!), she had a great time connecting with likeminded people and experiencing the country beyond the tourism. Check out the last of her reflections below:
A Window into the Lives of Haitian Refugees
During this trip we spent a lot of the time on road in giant vans, smushed together into cramped seats and constantly pestering Dave when the next restroom stop would be—just like the good old days of family roadtrips! On this particular excursion we drove to Ascencion, a Haitian refugee camp.
Although the people who live here are Haitian by descent, many were born in the camp and have never been to Haiti. And despite being born on Dominican soil, they are not considered Dominican either. They are in a sort of limbo; they have no nationality, no citizenship, and no way to remedy the situation. Anyone caught outside the camp is immediately deported to Haiti, where it’s likely they have no relatives and no way to support themselves. It is possible for people to get papers to become Dominican citizens, but it is a very expensive and time-consuming process, and no one has the resources to do so.
Our Next Step Travel guide Dave knows the people here well. We found out that he actually lived here with them for a few months when he first came to the Dominican Republic. He has since worked on a number of projects with them.
Making a Small Difference
Our project today was to begin construction on a drainage ditch that ran downhill in between everyone’s homes and a bit of farmland they had begun cultivating. A narrow path ran alongside the ditch. We took turns shoveling dirt and muck out of the ditch into two wheelbarrows, which then had to be taken down the path, dumped, and brought back. The process was slow going, but we kept at it until we’d cleared a good section.
We then began carrying cinderblocks, one at a time, up from the base of the path, stacking them near the space we’d just cleared. AnnMarie commandeered a group of young boys who had been curiously watching us to help finish carrying and stacking the blocks while Dave and a few others began mixing cement.
By early afternoon we’d finished laying down a section of the drainage ditch. We then stopped for the day, heading back up the road to have lunch at “Café Nicol.” A few of the women had cooked a huge feast for us, and we got in line with the children to be served up plates of chicken, rice and beans, and fruit.
NPCA Next Step Travel program features small group travel (up to 20), hands-on service projects, educational programs and a close-up view of the impact of volunteer service. Our all-inclusive trips are operated by Discover Corps, a program of Terra Education, an experienced leader in educational travel. Their CEO, Andrew Motiwalla, is also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Honduras 1996-98)! Most trips offer both a 14-day and a 10-day option, unless otherwise specified. All trips are accompanied by an NPCA Host.
Learn how you can join future Next Step Travel programs in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Thailand: travel.peacecorpsconnect.org.
Join our Next Step Travel (NST) country groups: Dominican Republic and Guatemala. These are places to ask questions, get program details, & meet other Next Step Travel travel-with-a-purpose travelers. Alumni, future NST participants, and those who are interested in NST can have an open forum to share photos, videos, discuss programs details, and make new friends!