Our first activity was Community English on the Tuesday afternoon that we arrived in Amber Cove. Our group went to a community that was a little over an hour away from the port, in a very remote part of the island. The community was so excited when we arrived and we separated into small groups and went to individual homes to work on our lesson for the week. My Mom and Grandma were with me and we were partnered with a wonderful Mom and Daughter from the community. We were with them for about an hour and spent the beginning of the lesson reviewing what they learned in the previous weeks. Then, we moved on to the lesson for the week we were there – colors. It was a bit of a challenge since none of us really spoke any Spanish, and they only spoke very little English, but we found we were able to communicate fairly well and make quite a connection in the short time we were there. We were all a bit hesitant going into this activity because of our very limited Spanish, but Fathom and the organization they partner with in the Dominican Republic, provided us with lesson materials that were pretty clear and made it much easier to communicate with our students. After our individual lessons were finished, we all gathered with an interpreter at a community pavilion where everyone went around and shared their experience. This was a great activity that allowed us to really interact with some local Dominican people who were truly grateful for us coming all the way to their small community so they would have the opportunity to learn English. Our guides from the local organization told us that because of how remote this community was, even if they wanted to go into the city to take an English language class, the majority of them would have no way to get there since it was over an hour away by car, which most community members didn’t have. Since the Dominican Republic is such a popular tourism destination, English fluency vastly increases the job opportunities available for Dominicans. In our onboard seminars with Fathom they mentioned that learning from native English speakers, is even more beneficial since they could hear the proper pronunciations and inflections in our voice as we taught them. I would repeat this impact activity again in a heartbeat.
On Wednesday morning we went to our next impact activity, which was at the Chocal chocolate cooperative. Chocal is a local women’s cooperative that was formed to create jobs near home so women wouldn’t have to travel great distances and leave their children at home to find jobs. Here, we learned about and were involved with the entire production process. We were divided into small groups again and moved around to different stations to learn about and participate in each step of the chocolate production. We started by putting the labels on chocolate bars that were already complete. This meant using hot glue guns to individually glue labels onto each bar. Next, we went to a station outside to sort through the cacao nibs and remove the shells and bad pieces from the cacao that was going to be sent to production. After that, we went inside to sort through cacao that had already been through the roasting process to remove any remaining shells. Lastly we went to the station where we took the hot chocolate and put it in different shaped molds to harden and be prepared for packaging. This entire process was a true labor of love and really made you aware of just how much work goes into producing a single bar of chocolate from Chocal. Because there are so many steps in this process, we were able to increase their production significantly in the short time we were there simply by having so many extra sets of hands to help with the manual labor. After we had finished the production process, we went on a tour of the nursery and finished with a delicious lunch prepared by the community. I really enjoyed this activity and working alongside the founding women of this cooperative who created a solution to the shortage of jobs in their community so they could stay at home with their children and work nearby. They now employ quite a few women, as well as their children and other family members as well. It was truly inspiring to see how much pride they took in their work and how grateful they were to simply have a job that they enjoyed in their community.
The last impact activity we participated in was making recycled paper and crafts at RePapel. Originally, we were a bit disappointed as the impact activities we had registered for prior to our cruise didn’t translate over to the ship, so the third activity we had originally signed up for was full by the time we became aware of the problem. RePapel was the last activity that still had availability for this time slot we had open on Thursday morning, so we signed up for it without knowing much about it, but it ended up being one of our favorite activities. RePapel was created by another group of local women to create jobs in their community by making recycled paper and crafts. These women were so enthusiastic and were an absolute joy to work with. They were very clearly thrilled to have jobs in their community and again, it was very clear that they truly enjoyed their work. We separated into groups and RePapel and moved through the different production stations again like we did at Chocal. Our group started by sitting around big trash cans of recycled paper and shredding the pieces by hand – sorting the white pieces into one bin and and pieces with black ink into another bin. This was tiring work done in a very hot room with a small fan. Our group was only at this station for about 25 minutes and many were commenting on the heat, but the two women from RePapel who were there with us were happily shredding paper while singing and having a good time. Next we went to a station where the recycled paper shreds were put into a blender with water to make a pulp mixture that was then laid out on screens to form the individual pieces of paper. Each piece of paper was then laid out to dry in the sun. From there, we took make-shift rolling pins and rolled out the dry sheets of paper to flatten them and remove some of the texture. In addition to the paper production process, we also worked on a variety of other craft projects including jewelry, candles, coasters, and pillows. At the end of this activity, they set up a gift shop so we could purchase the paper and crafts produced by RePapel. Although this impact activity was unplanned for us, it ended up being one of our favorites. These women were so enthusiastic and spent the entire morning we were there singing and having a great time while doing their work. This was another activity that I will definitely repeat on future Fathom trips.
The impact activities we participated in on our Fathom cruise were a wonderful and humbling experience. I had participated in service and volunteer work on a local and state level prior to this trip, but this was my first experience working in a different country, and it was very impactful. We attended a Fathom session on our sea day on Monday about being empathetic with the Dominican people as opposed to being sympathetic to them, and I thought that was a really great way to begin the trip and it stuck with me all week. Although it appeared they were in poverty and had very little, the people of the Dominican Republic were so grateful for our presence and the work we were doing and they were seemed to be truly happy with what they had. It was a joy to spend the week working alongside like-minded travelers and the Dominican people and before I had even finished by first trip, I knew that I would be returning on a future Fathom sailing.
Aside from the great experience participating in impact activities around Puerto Plata, the rest of the time with Fathom was also very enjoyable. The Fathom Adonia is a relatively small ship, holding just over 700 passengers and doesn’t have all of the “typical” cruise ship amenities, but there was plenty to keep us entertained. The Adonia has a pool, hot tub, gym, spa, library with games, and a good selection of entertainment in the evenings including local Dominican bands, game shows, karaoke, dance classes, and giant outdoor games on the pool deck. The three of us shared a cozy balcony room for the week, but it was comfortable and the view from our balcony when we were docked in Amber Cove was gorgeous. The food onboard was great, with some Dominican and Cuban options, and the specialty restaurant was delicious. We spent one afternoon doing a tour around Puerto Plata, which was a bit disappointing (the tour, not the area), and we spent our other free time in Amber Cove shopping and enjoying the nearly empty pool on the days that the Adonia was the only ship in port. The majority of the guests on this particular sailing to the Dominican Republic were travel agents and guests, so throughout the week, I was able to meet many other agents and talk business with them, which was enjoyable since I don’t meet many other agents in Michigan.
This was an amazing trip that I would recommend to anyone. Fathom truly has something for everyone to enjoy and I think this concept of social impact travel is wonderful. Although there were a few kinks on our sailing, that is to be expected of any new venture, and they have some wonderful staff and crew onboard to help resolve those few minor glitches. I could clearly sing Fathom’s praises all day long, but I’ll wrap this up. In summary, Fathom is great, voluntourism is fun, the Dominican Republic is beautiful and the people are genuine, and social impact travel is life-changing. I loved Fathom so much at the end of May that I am sailing with them again in November.
Contact us for more information about Fathom and to book your social impact cruise. There are still some great inaugural season rates available, but they won’t last for long!