My time volunteering in the Dominican Republic was one of my most rewarding experiences. There is so much need on this Caribbean island where much of the population lives on less than $2USD a day. Beach-hopping is relaxing yes (the DR has some of the most stunning coasts and sunsets), but resorts and “all-inclusives” are a dangerous thing that make you oblivious to what the country is really like.
Here are three important needs-based and community-building projects that I was able to experience on my trip near Puerto Plata. Each project has a focus on creating an impact in different ways, including economic development, the environment, and education.
Tree Planting and Reforestation
About 38% of the Dominican Republic is forested and while it might seem like a large percentage, trees have become an absolute necessity here where communities suffer from landslides. As part of IDDI, a non-governmental organization in the DR, there is a reforestation project that helps to replenish what is lost during natural disasters. We got to hike the rainforest and get our hands dirty. We managed to plant 380 cedar seeds before the rain came down. To see what the reforestation project is like, watch this video by my friend Jema.
Clean Water Filter Project
One of my favourite projects is the water filter project with Wine to Water. The aim is to lend a hand in improving access to clean drinking water for communities in the DR. With more than 80% of families lacking this basic human right, water filters have become an important tool to fight against ill-health, disease and poverty. The best part of my experience was delivering the filters to people in the community and directly meeting the families I was impacting.
Recycled Paper Entrepreneurship
The most energetic and inspiring group of women I’ve ever met was at RePapel. They sing and dance at this paper-making factory run by 13 women and single moms who found a way to repurpose paper while bringing in an extra income. They meticulously tear sheets of recycled paper all day, each one by hand, washing, flattening, and drying them to sell to tourist shops in Santo Domingo and printing companies which help them turn their product into postcards, business cards and stationery. Bring some cash with you to buy some of their beautiful jewellery and other hand-made crafts.
Build a Concrete Floor
We take for granted the floor we walk on. Believe it or not, some people don’t have a clean, sanitary floor in their home. Creating a cement floor for a local family was in the DR was a truly meaningful experience where I could use my own hands to create (and actually see) the direct social and economic impact I was having on someone else’s life. It’s hard to grasp what life was like for Eriberta and Chavez to live without a proper floor each day but I’ll never forget meeting this positive couple. Knowing I was able to help improve their quality of living was the most rewarding part of my volunteer trip.
Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative
Chocal is a small factory owned and run by an inspiring group of local women who produce 100lbs of chocolate each day! The factory has no extra budget to sort nibs or wrap bars so volunteers chip in with an extra hand. Lending an extra hand means the women’s hands are free to do what they do best – make chocolate! Since welcoming volunteers, the women have been able to increase supply, making 16,112 more chocolate bars which, in turn, they can sell to tourists for $2 each. Watch my friends, Dave and Deb’s experience at Chocal.
Teach English Conversation
About 41% of the population lives below the poverty line, most kids leave school at age 8, and families try to make ends meet with about $170 a month. Helping locals learn a few more words or phrases in English means they can have access to better jobs and higher income. Entrena is one of the organizations in the DR that focuses on skills-training and educational development. They create their own curriculums and volunteers are given specific lesson plans so that students can keep improving at their level or higher, even after volunteers have left.
Take a deep breath and jump in wholeheartedly! The DR is a beautiful place with inspiring people who will open up their arms and home to you.
“The more good you do, the better you feel about yourself. And the more good you will continue to do”