My husband (Eddie) and I had the pleasure of participating in Fathom Cruise impact activities while on a vacation to the Dominican Republic. Fathom’s activities were created in an effort to aid the poor Dominican Republic country. This is the first vacation of its type: volunteering while on a cruise vacation. Imagine getting to see the beauty of this Caribbean destination as well as play a part of helping their people prepare for a brighter future. The cruise is only a few months old. Read about the cruise itself here and continue on for the impact activities we partook in.
Cacao Chocolate Cooperative
The first impact activity that I participated in took my group to the nursery where cacao plants are raised. The Dominican Republic has a perfect climate for growing these pods. They are later processed to make delicious chocolate. At the nursery, we each took turns mixing dirt with fertilizer and scooping dirt into bags for planting. We moved the bags into covered shelters and then inserted seedlings into them. Although the sun was beaming and we were sweating like crazy, nobody minded the physical labor.
For the second part of the day, we worked at the organic chocolate bar factory, called Chocal. It is here that the cacao plants are processed and made into delicious chocolate items. The Chocal Co-op women welcomed us with open arms and treated us to a chocolate drink upon our arrival. We were split into groups and led to four activities: sorting the cacao pieces, packaging and boxing candy bars for shipment, picking shells from roasted nuts, and molding the melted chocolate.
At the end of our cacao experience, we could buy the chocolate and other items from a small gift shop. The chocolate bar flavors were: 70% dark, milk, orange, original, and mint. The bon-bons were a nice option so that you could try all of the flavors. The Chocolate Co-op made $254 from our purchases and the combined work efforts from our participation equaled a week of labor. If you do not participate in this activity, you can still purchase the candy bars at the port of Amber Cove.
Community English Conversation and Learning
This was my favorite activity, though not exactly what I had pictured. There were three different work groups for this high demand endeavor. Two of the three groups traveled only 20 minutes away, but mine drove 70 minutes out of town, majority being on treacherous dirt roads, to the remote village of Cupey. Cupey is farmland with hundreds of pigs, cows, horses, and other animals. It was interesting to see.
We were welcomed by a group of locals, adults and children alike, who wanted to practice and learn the English language. We had a general orientation plus a meet and greet at a local spot before splitting up. Afterwards, we were taken into a variety of homes where each Fathom volunteer was paired with a student or two. The curriculum is easy to follow; step by step instructions out of a colorful handbook to test the students’ English. Our lesson for the day was “celebrations” with words like birthday, holiday, presents, and cake.
I was paired with a mother and son team who were delightful. They were both incredibly smart and had a huge desire to master the English language. The boy was 11 years old and adorable. He and I actually went through the majority of the book, not just our designated lesson.
Only Took a Few Hours to Open Our Hearts
After our lesson, we returned to our meeting spot for a snack and to share stories about our day. Upon the first meeting, students and teachers were seated on separate sides of the room. By the end, we were intermingled with each other like old friends.
When it was time to board the bus, there were of tearful hugs and goodbyes. Many of us exchanged Facebook and email information. My heart was filled with happiness; I did not even mind the bumpy ride back to the ship.
Other Fathom Cruise Impact Activities
Water Filter Production
I thought this was the most rewarding activity of them all. The “wine to water” filters are made by volunteers, then delivered to local community homes. This water filter is a life changer since the Dominican Republic has extremely unsafe drinking water and with one of these filters, a family has access to clean water for up to five years. No more having to walk great lengths to purchase expensive water. This activity has a $20 cost per volunteer.
Recycled Paper Entrepreneurship
Attendees work with local women to make handicrafts and recycled paper. Old paper is recycled through a simple, though time consuming process, to make stationary, cards, and other paper goods. The women make crafts from local items and you can purchase them if interested. My friends described these ladies as warm, highly energetic, loving, and welcoming.
Creative Arts, Music, and Sports
Although many of my friends participated in this activity, the children on the ship seemed to enjoy it the most. The volunteers and kids paired up for a day of dancing, playing games, and athletics. It is a great way for connecting through different cultures and ideas.
This activity puts you side by side with local Dominican home owners to mix and pour concrete floors in their home. Many currently have dirt floors, making this another rewarding opportunity. How wonderful to be able to make homes more livable and in only a few hours of hard work? This activity has a $20 cost per volunteer.
Reforestation and Nursery (Wednesday and Thursdays combine both activities, while Tuesday and Friday only offer reforestation)
For this activity, you will plant seedlings in the nursery. On Wednesday and Thursday, volunteers will plant seedlings along steep hillsides, which involves strenuous climbing and extreme temperatures. Volunteers must wear long pants, closed toed shoes, and lots of mosquito spray.
The Impact My Fathom Cruise Made
Fathom Cruise Lines has created an opportunity that can make a difference in a country where help is both needed and wanted. I felt that the locals were highly appreciate of our efforts. The impact made was as much in me as in the community that we helped. These Fathom Cruise impact activities had a much greater impact on me than the efforts that I contributed. I hope that other travelers will embrace this new way of cruising and be part of a growing new movement; helping others is contagious.
Fathom Cruise and Dominican Republic Photo Gallery:
Note: Chocal has been in business for several years. The ladies have secured a loan for their business and want to pay it off as quickly as possible, which becomes much easier when they have labor help. There was not much cultural interaction in this activity, but I enjoyed it.