Last May, when I was still ambivalent about going on a volunteer vacation in the Dominican Republic, Mommy Niri convinced me to go.
Although I had signed up for LATISM’s Sustainable Development Project, I was strongly considering backing out. The problem was that I would be traveling alone with my children to Monte Cristi, an isolated and potentially dangerous region on the border of Haiti. And at the time, the voluntourism project was more of an idea than a plan.
That in itself was scary. The organization behind the project had no track record – something that most experts will tell you to avoid at all cost. More than that, this was in many ways a good example of why you shouldn’t participate in voluntourism.
But when Mommy Niri spoke about Social Media for Social Good at Bloggy Boot Camp in Boston, I realized that none of this mattered. If there was even the slightest chance that we could do good, then it was worth the gamble.
Volunteer Vacation in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic
When my kids and I arrived in Monte Cristi, the sustainable development project was still a disorganized mess. Plans for a cyber room were on hold because the donated laptops were being held at customs. The school camp lacked lesson plans, or teachers, or even students. Despite a rocky start, or perhaps because of it, the sustainable development project was a success.
Without preconceptions, the first item on the agenda was to listen. LATISM founder Ana Roca-Castro gathered local leaders and students to ask them about their needs, and volunteers shared their strengths and talents.
One firecracker of a woman zoomed around town, alerting moms and the local TV station that the camp would open the next day. And boy did they arrive! On the first day of camp we had quite the crowd of Monte Cristi’s children. Good thing that among them was at least one experienced teacher, and a group of teens who were eager to teach.
Several helped translate so that my son could share his passion for manga in a cartoon drawing class; first, for the older students…
and then for the youngest.
My daughter wanted to teach kids how to skimboard, so she went with a group of teens to the beach at El Morro in Monte Cristi National Park.
Before long, but not without a few tumbles, some had picked up the basics of this competitive sport and planned to keep it up long after we left.
Meanwhile, my strength lay in travel writing, so I spent the week visiting Monte Cristi’s tourist attractions, hotels, and restaurants. I took lots of photos and gathered enough information to fill several articles. In the meantime, it’s a resource that is being used by the cyber room team (which eventually did receive those laptops!) to create a Monte Cristi Vacation site.
My kids and I were only there for the first week of a three-week pilot program. I wish we could have stayed longer, especially as we missed being there when the young Cyber Room team was able to get to work. And we weren’t there to see the immediate impact of the Johnson & Johnson health clinic on the last week.
Monte Cristi has come a long way in recent years to shake the most crippling effects of poverty, and with the combined effort of local activists and international supporters, it can only get better.
Thanks, Mommy Niri, for giving me that push!
Sandra Foyt | Sandra Foyt is a storyteller, photographer, and road trip junkie. A veteran of six cross-country road trips, she drove Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the fossil freeway, the extraterrestrial highway, and even “the loneliest road in America.” Find her on GetawayMavens.com, an award-winning destination guide to extraordinary travel in and from Northeast USA, on her portfolio site at SandraFoyt.com, and in freelance gigs on Family Travel 411, Minitime, Huffington Post, and Matador Network. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @SandraFoyt.