To learn about Fathom Cruises to the Dominican Republic, read our first article to get acquainted: http://jenisonajourney.com/2016/07/19/fathom-cruise-dominican-republic.html.
After learning about Fathom cruises to the Dominican Republic, booking our trip and planning our impact activities, day 3 arrived-a Tuesday and it was time to get to work. After two and a half days at sea we pulled into port at Amber Cove. The first impact activities start after 1pm, so you can wake up slow and get energized for your day with a meal or two. Excitement begins brewing at breakfast and we were positively giddy by lunchtime, finding out who’ll be spending the day with in the field. We grabbed some extra dry cereal boxes from the Conservatory to keep with us while off the ship, just in case.
Tickets are distributed and delivered to your cabin either the night before or the morning of your activities. Check your Soundings newsletter for important information regarding when and where to meet. Because of a mixup on our Journey Planner and the onboard computers, we received our tickets in person at the Explorer’s Desk. This is a great spot to become familiar with if you have any questions, haven’t received your tickets, or want to add/cancel any activities.
REFORESTATION and NURSERY
Our first of 3 impact activities from our Fathom cruise was Reforestation and Nursery in Puerto Plata. We met up with our team leader in the Curzon Lounge and made sure we were on the list and were given stickers that indicate your bus assignment. Your ticket is your pass to get on the bus so keep it handy, also you will need your cruise card/room key with you to both get off and get back on the ship and to show twice in Amber Cove.
Our day was overcast and about 85 degrees with high humidity. For nursery and field work, long pants are recommended as well as closed-toe shoes, breathable fabrics and hats help. We brought sunscreen and bug spray (with Deet for the Zika virus) and applied it before we left our cabin each day but your team leaders also carry it with them. We walked off the boat and and in a few minutes you’re in the midst of Amber Cove–the pool, waterslides, and zipline to your right, and marketplace of shops to your left. The Fathom Impact Center is available in this spot and offers hands-on demos of activities and workshops, plus wi-fi is free in here with their password and it has A/C!
On a mission we made our way and found our bus. On board you wait for all passengers to arrive and then you are introduced to members of IDDI (Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral) and they fill you in about their company as well as their overall mission for the activity.
IDDI is a Dominican based non-profit organization whose primary objective is to contribute to the socioeconomic transformation of individuals, families and communities, so that they, both collectively and individually, can have a reasonable opportunity to live a productive and healthy life, each in accordance to his/her needs, interests and potential.
Ezekiel not only was funny, but sincere as he spoke of his life and family in the Dominican Republic. We arrived at the Nursery located in Isabel de Torres in about 25 minutes and were given some instruction on what to do. We met up with a huge pile of fresh prime soil and as some bagged it, the other half of us were given seeds to plant in already packed and moist soil. The first half hour was overwhelming because we were all so eager to help we were bumping into eachother and trying to find our groove. Once we did we took our bags of soil, inserted the seed into moist dirt, repacked it with fresh soil and set them aside we were a well-oiled machine. Until….we began hearing large cracks of thunder overhead, louder than I’ve ever experienced living in dry central California. Lightning followed and we weren’t afraid of a little rain, but the storm got closer and then the lightning was posing too much of a threat that we had to stop what we were doing and immediately take cover. As we walked back to the nursery office area, huge drops of water fell from the sky and it was kinda exciting because it was something I rarely experience but also it gave a reprieve from the heat. The rain fell harder, the thunder got louder and suddenly we were in a deluge. For 30 minutes we watched in awe as dirt turned to mud then mudslides around us. We were offered water, crackers, and fruit while we waited. The rain fell in sheets and when there was no sign of letting up, our leaders made the executive decision to cancel the rest of the afternoon, it was just too dangerous to work. Clearly disappointed we loaded the bus, wet and muddy and headed back to port. The sights around Puerto Plata were shocking as water poured into homes, flooded streets, and made pools of mud in the yards of families. It was a sad sight to see, though some still stood in their doorways and waved with smiles as we drove by.
CHOCAL WOMEN’S CHOCOLATE COOPERATIVE
Good morning Wednesday, up bright and early to meet in the Curzon Lounge for day 2! Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday’s have an early start, but always check that Soundings newsletter and your ticket for ultimate confirmation. Another quick ride by bus to Altamira we arrived at Chocal. This company was started by women who wanted to work to bring more money into the family as well as keeping a short distance between them and their children. Run by all women, chocolate is made from the ground up quite literally to provide a delicious end product to consumers in the Dominican Republic. From the cacao tree, seeds are extracted from their moist, juicy pod than grow and hang from the trunk of the tree. Laid out in batches, they ferment and then are laid out to dry in the sunshine. Roasted they are then sorted by shape and size, nibs are then cleaned.
We aided in the sorting and cleaning process. Jumping to chocolate molds, we stirred up the goodness and learned the method to properly filling the molds and releasing the air pockets. Milagros, a professional showed us how to do it properly and smiled at us even through our mistakes. A few steps later found us in a room with the finished candy bars applying labels. After a few hot glue gun burns, I think I got it just right with the proper information on the front and the nutritional value chart on the back. Overall our few hours turned out very productive and we had a chance to visit their small store on site to shop for candy and even wine! The women are loving and were patient with us, it felt good to put my Spanish speaking to use and communicating even put more smiles on their faces. As a mom it was great to know these women were working for their families any great parent would and even in 3rd world countries, there is no difference in the human spirit.
This is a very popular activity and is often books full fast. Because of our scheduling change we replaced another full activity with this one as two spaces opened up at the last minute. If you can’t get into this activity you can sort cacao beans at Amber Cove’s Impact Center. Lunch is provided next door with a chicken stew, some root vegetables, and of course ice-cold bottled water.
RESULT: After 6 weeks working in the Dominican Republic Fathom helped increase production by sorting and getting 992 pounds of cacao nibs cleaned and we helped wrap 16,112 bars of chocolate! Our help contributed to greater productivity and allowed the women to focus their time and resources on the more intricate processes to making chocolate!
REFORESTATION AND NURSERY TAKE TWO
Originally our Thursday activity was a snorkel sail. We had one day off from impact activities to do a little extra-curricular swim in the Atlantic planned, sounded fantastic and are happy to say we ended up hearing it was! But, because of the weather and cancellation of our Nursery excursion on Tuesday, we felt like we had unfinished business to attend to. Luckily we made a visit to the Explorer’s Desk on the ship and explained our situation and were able to cancel our snorkel sail and replace it with the Reforestation activity. We felt good, the staff was fairly impressed with our decision and it came down to really what were we cruising for and it was to make an impact. We can snorkel and sail another time.
Let me preface our experience with an important note. If you get motion sick at all, wear sea bands and take Dramamine, period. The drive to Yasica from the ship is about an hour and the road is windy. My husband had been bragging about how well he’d done without medical help for his motion sickness on the airplane and so far on the ship. Even our last two short bus rides were easy on him. This was a different animal. No sea bands or medication and he was feeling awful by the time we reached our destination. Add the heat, the hike, and the labor, my husband was worn out pretty quickly. The walk to our location was about 10 minutes and there was some steepness and uneven terrain to walk through. We were in the rainforest, so it wasn’t a shock. Three groups helped transport our prepared seedlings to spots where holes were dug and baby trees were planted. Shade was nearby most at the time as was cold bottled water. Long pants are helpful as are hats, long sleeves, and durable shoes. Sunscreen and bug spray was carried by our IDDI leaders. Again, once we got into a groove, we functioned as a great team. My husband had to sit out towards the end in the shade as he was not feeling well, and I’d worried he was able to even walk back to the lunch spot. He was offered a ride in their truck versus walking but he made the trek back. After cooling down, drinking water, and eating some of the delicious lunch he pepped back up but the ride back got him severely nauseous again. He rested back on the ship the rest of the afternoon and thankfully had a productive and healthy rest of the trip. Aside from this setback, I was so happy and so proud to have done this activity. The scenery was incredible, the work was right in front of us and obvious immediately on the impact it was going to make. We hope to head to that place again in 15 years to see some of those trees all grown up!
RESULT: Our work had aided reforestation by providing new plants with more nutrient-rich soil, there was a reduction in soil loss, improvement in localized air and local water, increase in localized biodiversity and offered higher agricultural yields. Following our our trip, 6359 seedlings had been planted in the Dominican rainforest!
STUDENT ENGLISH CONVERSATION and LEARNING
When I remember Puerto Plata and entering the community elementary school back in May, my eyes immediately well up with tears. My career and passion before my three children were born was being a Kindergarten and first grade teacher. I had classrooms of children that I taught, nurtured, and cared for and those memories, though overshadowed by 18 years with my own kids, still have place in my heart. I became a stay-at-home mom when my first daughter was born and never went back to teaching but I’ve been a proponent for schools, teachers, and supporting the PTO ever since they began in the school system. When I heard that one of the Fathom impact activities was actually entering a classroom of 10-12 year old children and teaching them English I knew that was going to be my favorite activity of the trip. It was Friday, our last day in port, and there was only the morning activity available to all cruisers. I dressed in a long skirt and sleeved top as the dress code requires women to have both their shoulders and knees covered in the schools. Earlier in the week I had taken a refresher Spanish class aboard the Adonia as well as an “Empowering English Tutoring” session to prepare for our time in the classroom. We were working with the Entrena leaders whose mission has been to serve as a bridge between different cultures and in this case to empower English to students in the Dominican Republic. Learning and speaking English from a young age is valuable in the DR as proficiency will ultimately lead to better jobs and increased income for the people in the community.Once we arrived, we were also shown the manual of lessons we were going to use in the classroom. From numbers to colors, to the calendar and telling time, there were lesson plans at the ready along with flash cards, sample dialog, and cues to follow when working with the children. This brought back memories and I felt excited and confident. The first group of children entered the room and again my eyes filled with happy tears. These kids were the age of our youngest daughter and I suddenly was homesick but also ready to meet these beautiful children. We learned right off the bat that this school was part of a newer program that allows students to attend school all day. This is important as through the governmental funds, they are given two meals a day and return home as their parents are returning from work. This allows for both parents to work a proper work day and provide income to their families as well as the school providing one more meal that doesn’t have to be provided at home. More money to families and the kids are in a safe environment as their parents are working.The children introduced themselves and we began with a song and dance that helped break the ice. Personalities were similar to walking into a 4th or 5th grade classroom in California, again children are children no matter where in the world you are. Shy students stared at us strangers and when our eyes met they looked away, it’s best to continue to smile. Even with the short time you have to work with the kids, a trust must be developed in order for successful communication.
Posted on the board was our subject for our teaching lesson. We were going to work with the students on saying the days of the week, months of the year, and talk about holidays and birthdays. Then we met our student, Jeans, age 10. Jeans was eager to work with us, only a little shy, but his bright eyes and smile let us know he was comfortable. I tried my best to not use a lot of Spanish, but I knew that this helped me make a connection to him and also understand him better. My husband and I took turns asking him questions and going over different skills. The students do have some English instruction, but our fine tuning and pronunciation practice was more focused on this particular subject of the day. I only wished for more space, we were in a classroom with probably 15 students and twice as many adults and it was loud. Because of seating we were on the floor, which as a K-1 teacher I’ve done before, but it wasn’t carpeted and I was under the white board.
After about maybe a half hour our students left and it was “recess” time. We took a break, drank water, had a snack, and used the restroom. While outside we saw the students playing and staring back at us, waving and smiling, we were now friends. Back in the classroom a second wave of students entered to more dancing and singing and introductions. We were working with Elsa next, a 12 year girl close to my height and much more shy than Jeans. We talked about family, her pretty jewelry, and she too reminded me of a typical American pre-teen girl. Once we started in the lesson she was very ready to learn and we laughed over practicing the hard “th” sound as you hear in the word Thursday. Here I am pointing to my tongue touching my top teeth and blowing air and trying to have her repeat that without spitting in such close quarters. Our time together went by way to fast and as a mother of two girls and a boy, the homesickness kicked in again. We took photos and though we couldn’t get Elsa to crack a smile, I knew she could do it. I boarded the bus on our way out in tears, again! It was hard to think that I will probably never see Jeans or Elsa again. Unlike our small California town where I hear about my former students and still run into them or their families now that they’re in their 20’s, I won’t ever know where Jeans or Elsa will take their lives.
When I heard one of the women in our group say that this was her impact activity the whole week sometimes twice in the day, I knew immediately that I wanted to return on another Fathom cruise and do the same. I’m so glad I had this opportunity, I’m still in shock that this whole idea of impact travel, while cruising, is so new. It’s amazing and is truly the best of both world, quite literally.
RESULT: The numbers of children and learning hours increase each week Fathom sails and the amount of English instruction the students receives builds each week. I believe between the community and student learners (by doing some math with metrics from a few months ago) close to 900 members of the Dominican Republic have been taught some basic English.
If I didn’t mention it enough in my first post (linked at the top of this one), a Fathom cruise must be on your bucket list! I’ve had a conversation with my husband about returning and it’s a definite yes for him, our experiences and the people we met really changed our mindset on travel for the better. He’d also love for us to be able to take our children as they would really benefit from this type of travel and learning how opening your heart for others really is special. For more information on a Fathom cruise to the Dominican Republic or Cuba, visit Fathom.org, and you can get an additional $50-150 off by using my Insider’s Discount Code: Insider1509. Click here to register and claim your savings!
Our cruise was hosted, flight to Miami, taxes/gratuities, and 100% honest opinions were our own.