I am what you would probably consider a serial cruiser. I love to cruise. Years ago, I introduced my husband to the awesomeness that is cruising. How can you not love it? For one price, you have your lodging, food (I am talking all you can eat buffets and steak dinners) and activities all wrapped into one cost-effective price. Not to mention, you are taken to exotic locations, get to spend the day among the locals and check out the area & culture.
However, there are times the locations visited are not so “exotic”. I remember my very first cruise, I didn’t want to do the planned excursions that were provided so I ventured out on my own. The destination was Cozumel, we rented a little vehicle and explored the area. On this exploration, I was taken aback. This was not the bright colored area that our shipped docked in. In fact, I saw poverty. I saw mud huts with children in rags. I saw hunger in the eyes of the children. I saw suffering. It broke my heart. Here I was, being completely stuff with food at every meal and treated like royalty on the cruise line, then I was face to face with extreme poverty. But what could i do? I was at this destination for 6 hours, I didn’t have time to make much of a difference even if I tried. So, I gave money to those I saw needed it and I went on my way.
A few months ago I was presented with a trip, a cruise in fact, that included much of the things I adored about cruising but instead of lounging on the beach at each destination, I was going into the community to make a difference. Instead of sailing port to port, I was going to dock for 4 days/3 nights at the same port and use my time there to truly make a difference in the lives of a struggling country. This cruise was a good-will cruise through Fathom Cruise Lines and it was sold as “impact travel” to make a difference in the Dominican Republic. Think third world country community service with the luxuries of home.
The first days on the ship were filled with activities. Unlike most cruises, where you spend the day at the pool and/or play trivia games & scavenger hunts, on Fathom we attended activities which prepare us for our time at the Dominican Republic. One of the first activities I took part in was Spanish lessons. The impact guides led us in lessons and common Spanish phrases that will assist us before we reach port. I had taken two years of Spanish in High School but much of it was lost over the years. This refresher was much needed!
One of the impact activities is going into classrooms and the community to help teach English to the native residents. There was also a class given to prepare us for the teaching experience. The guide that led this class was so much fun. We began the class with a non-speaking activity. We all picked cards and had to act out an animal on that card. It was a lesson in non-verbal communication that can be used when teaching in the area. We also paired off into groups and given a lesson to “teach”. One member was the teacher and the other the student. This was not only a great way to prepare us for going out into the community but an awesome bonding experience with the other travelers on board.
The Fathom Impact Activities Excursions
The impact activities are a huge part of the Fathom experience, it’s what drew me to the cruise after-all. The purpose of the impact activities is broken into three categories: Economic, Environmental and Educational. Currently there are 7 activities you can choose from and all activities are ran by the local organization Entrena. Lets take a glimpse at the impact activities.
Community English Conversation & Learning
The Community English Conversation & Learning activity was no cost to the traveler. With tourism being a huge economic factor in the Dominican Republic, English is a very important asset to have. This impact activity was all about education. We were sent out into communities and taught English to local residents. I would highly suggest taking the Spanish lessons on the ship beforehand. Many of the residents spoke very little English and communication is difficult if you do not understand at least a little Spanish. Luckily, I was in a group with some individuals who spoke Spanish very well and they were able to translate for me. We followed a lesson plan with the residents, reviewed the English words they learned the previous lesson and introduced new words to them. At the end of the lessons, we gathered at the local building and everyone had an opportunity to share their thoughts. Local residents shared how grateful they were for us to visit their community and help them with English. Fathom travelers also expressed their gratitude. I highly recommend this activity. If you allow yourself to fully embrace the experience, it can be a life changing lesson.
Recycled Paper & Crafts
The day I spent at RaPapel was an emotional one. I am not sure if it was because of the energy in the women there, the appreciation in their eyes or the way they greeted us in song; but the moment the day began and they started to introduce themselves, I became weepy. We were separated into groups and each group had a chance to check out the arts, then the paper making. While learning what each women worked on (and let me tell you, it was NOT easy), we also learned more about them. One woman spoke of her daily travel to the RaPapel home. It takes her an hour and a half each way to arrive to “work”. On the way there she walks part of the way, takes a boat and then walks some more. But in the end, it is worth it to her and she had a smile on her face all day long.
The women that were part of the recycled paper making were a blast. While making paper they would burst out into song and dance. It goes to show, no matter your situation, you can never let the struggles in life keep you down. We sang, we danced, all while saving the environment one sheet of paper at a time.
I did not take part in the reforestation but after speaking with members that have, I suggest wearing clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty in! This is an environment impact activity and is at zero cost to the traveler. Honestly, while I think it is a wonderful idea, I did hear complaints that this activity was not well organized. Also, look into the days you plan on going because some days you are planting trees and other days you are in the nursery planting seedlings.
Student English/ Student Sports
If you are taking this cruise in the summer time, kids will not be in school. Instead, impact travelers visit a “sports” type camp and take part in crafts, sports and an array of activities with the local children. I heard very positive reviews on this activity; mainly travelers had a blast with the kids!
Women’s Chocolate Cooperative
This was an activity that I was hoping to take part in but it was booked up fast! During this activity, you take part in the chocolate bar production cycle. From cultivating the cocoa trees, prepping the beans and even wrapping the candy bars; you get the entire chocolate experience. One big tip is to wear lots and lots of bug repellent before attending this activity. Some of the travelers that visited the plant returned covered in mosquito bites! Also, the chocolate that is made at the plant is also sold at Amber Cove. I suggest purchasing some, it is delicious!
Concrete Floors in Community Homes
Have you ever worked with Habitat for Humanity? Well, the concrete floor experience reminds me of the initiative. You go into a home and work side my side with the home owner to pour floors. Now mind you, this is NOT easy work but from the travelers I spoke with, it was extremely rewarding as you can see the direct impact in the community.
Water Filter Production
I asked a young girl, probably around 14 years old, what her favorite activity was. She said it was the water filter production. She told me a bit about the process and what was involved in the activity. She worked in the plant where she created water filters but then had the opportunity to bring the filters she created to individuals in the community. I have to admit, I was a little surprised that this activity was her favorite but after she spoke of how rewarding it was to deliver the filters; I completely understood.
As the ship began to make it’s way back to the States, we were all able to reflect on our experiences and the impact that was made. I attended a “Social Innovation in Action” activity on board the ship. During this activity we were separated into groups and given a real, pressing problem that is currently affecting the world. In our groups, we were to think outside the box and discuss ways to solve the problems given. A touching moment, after the groups discussed the problems/solutions, involved a little girl who was there with her Father. She discussed being from Atlanta and the current homeless problem in her area. Because of the activity she took part in, it has inspired her to think outside the box to help others in her community.
Change starts with one person. My hope is that this little girl leaves the cruise to go on and do wonderful things. My hope is that people leave this cruise and discuss the impact it has made on them and the people of the Dominican Republic. Fathom Impact Cruise is an “outside the box” way to truly make a difference in a country that desperately needs it. We can not sit around anymore and feel like there is nothing we can do. Jump in with both feet, lend a hand, think outside the box and make an impact. Because trust me, it will impact your soul.
What a wonderful post about our cruise. ;) It was fun to be part of something so new and innovative. I wish I would have had time to get to know you. Maybe in the future. Keep up the great work and blog. Safe travels.
Sunday 3rd of July 2016
Great post and description of the Fathom experience. I was weepy at RaPapel too, although it hit me more on the bus back to the ship than during the activity. That was the third Impact activity I'd participated in and the emotions had built up. I felt some sadness but it was mostly an abundance of love and positivity.