Recently we were lucky enough to cruise with Fathom Travel aboard the Adonia on their second trip to the Dominican Republic. The basic idea is that travelers participate in “Impact Activities” to empower and give back to the local community while enjoying the beautiful surroundings and learning about the island’s culture. We’ve written up an overview of the Fathom Travel experience, and what makes it different from the typical “volunteering” trip. During our time on the ground in the Dominican Republic, we both participated in several of Fathom’s Impact Activities. You can choose up to three included in the cruise. It may be possible to squeeze in an additional one, but we found ourselves plenty busy with the three. Of those, the one that I enjoyed the most was called “Concrete Floors in Community Homes.”
Having never worked with concrete before I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I hoped that I would still be able to pull my weight on the team. I’ve seen crews mixing and pouring concrete more than a few times at home, so I had a vague idea what was involved. I suppose I chose this activity for a few reasons but there were two that stand out: one, I would be using my back (and hands and arms and legs as it turns out) to do some real labor; and two, there would be something tangible at the end of the day’s work. Both of these were certainly true as I would soon learn.
Arriving to the Work Site
In order for travelers to get to their respective activities, there is a shuttle bus and number system Fathom has implemented. You must be sure to check the “Soundings,” daily schedule you receive nightly, to see when your activity meets in the Curzon Lounge. Once you’ve checked in there you are assigned a group number that corresponds to the bus you will ride in for the day. Everyone funnels out of the ship, past the retail pad, to the parking lot boarding their bus. After leaving Amber Cove you meet your facilitator on the bus who works for IDDI (Dominican Institute for Integral Development), a local NGO, who is there to explain the day’s activity and guide you through the process. My facilitator was Orlando, who said his last name was “Bloom” (theme here), and who taught us tons including everything from details about the neighborhood we’d be working in to how IDDI chooses which homes to floor. He also informed us that in the area where we would be working, about 80% of the homes currently have dirt floors.
This is the neighborhood near Puerto Plata that Fathom is now focusing on for the flooring project. The hope is that all the homes in El Javillar will have concrete floors by the end of the year, and then Fathom can move on to another neighborhood. The previous day, the family we were to work with was told that they had been chosen to receive the floor the next day and would need to move their furniture out before the travelers arrived. I can just imagine the butterflies of excitement and anticipation they must have felt. As we approached, it was clear that the area was in need. The street hadn’t been paved in quite some time and the houses were becoming more and more basic.
Meeting Juan, his family and the rest of the crew
The proud home owner’s name was Juan. He lived in the simple home with his wife and their young daughter. They introduced themselves, through an IDDI facilitator acting as a translator. In doing so Juan thanked us for taking our time to help his family and attributed this blessing to his faith. Next, the other IDDI facilitators introduced themselves. Keeping with the theme above they had some fun names like Chocolate and Stone, I’d work closely with Stone for the day and I later found out his real name was Lorenzo. Lorenzo, aka Stone, shared his story with me during one of our breaks. His grandmother’s house had received a new floor on Fathom’s inaugural cruise visit the previous week. Stone had been there helping out since he didn’t have a job at the time and it was his grandmother’s house after all. During the day, one of the IDDI employees noticed his grasp on English and of course his work ethic and offered him a job on the spot. You can’t make this stuff up! After hearing his story I did notice that in fact there were four other younger men there helping with Juan’s house who didn’t have IDDI shirts on as the rest of the facilitators did. All at once I realized that not everyone there “working” was there because it was their job. Some of the locals were there because of the strong sense of family and by extension community. They were just plain there to help! This epiphany probably made a bigger impact on me personally than any other moment of the entire Fathom experience. Not only was the home owner there working just as hard as, most likely harder than, the travelers but also his community had rallied behind him to ensure this opportunity came true!
After introductions, we split up into groups, which were formed according to skills and expertise. There were 21 travelers and we needed three groups so naturally we divided into groups of seven. One group, the one I was a part of, was tasked with shoveling sand, cement and water together to make the concrete. We then shoveled the mix into buckets, where the second group formed a “water line” in order to move the material into the house by passing the buckets to one another. The buckets were then passed to the third group who spread the concrete and smoothed it using planks of wood.
As for what I actually did, as I mentioned, making concrete what pretty labor intensive. To create the concrete mix we literally mixed the materials on the street, which was make of dirt. We would fill a wheelbarrow six times with sand, pouring it on the ground and spreading it evenly to make a flat circle of sand. Then we opened two bags of cement (I think they were 80 pound bags) and spread it evenly across the sand. We then used the shovels to churn the sand and cement together by scooping and flipping the mix with the shovels. When this was complete there was more or less a volcano shape of the mixture. The next step was to add water. In order to do this we would spread the mix around to make a “pool” and pour the water into the middle, being careful not to let it run out from the edges. Next, we started by pushing the sand cement mix into the water and repeating until we hand mixed all the water in. At this point, the concrete was ready to be shoveled into the buckets. We repeated this until we were able to cover the inside of the house, and we even had a bit left over to pave a path from the front door to the street!
After sweating, laughing with each other, and congratulating everyone for a job well done, the entire group walked down the road to the local church. It was a small building, but certainly the best-looking one in the neighborhood. The pastor was kind enough to let Fathom and IDDI use the building to serve a buffet lunch. This was another chance for the group to bond and share stories about the day, another example of the “alongsidedness” that is a big theme with Fathom. This theme is present not only during Impact Activities, but on board and behind the scenes as well.
Impact Activities: The Verdict
This was my favorite Impact Activity I participated in during my week with Fathom. There is a $20 surcharge to participate in this activity, but if budget is a factor, it’s certainly money well spent. You will definitely sweat and be tired when the day is through; have no doubt about that. The activity level Fathom rates the activity is “considerable” and the terrain is “rough.” The terrain wasn’t exactly rough in my opinion but the footing was uneven for sure. As for the activity level, I completely agree, although you can take a break at anytime as needed.
Current Fathom Travel Booking Specials
If you’re ready to get on board, there are some fantastic specials going on. We are excited to offer our readers a special Insiders’ Code which means a $50, $100 or $150 off your trip, per person, depending on your booking/sailing date. Use this code, and we’ll get credit for friends and family who join in the fun as well. Here’s how it works: click the link above, and you’ll be taken to a special Fathom Insiders page. The code Insider1524 should be already visible in the “Insider Code” section. If not, you can also manually enter this code into the “Insider Code” field. Once you have added the rest of your details and completed the registration you will be emailed a discount code you can use when booking a trip. Be sure to use your Insider Code when calling 855-932-8466 to book your trip.
You can score even more savings if you’re planning to cruise before the end of August! Fathom is currently running a BOGO deal for 7-day sailings to the Dominican Republic booked by June 30. To take advantage of this additional deal, mention the code FA after telling them your Insider Code. THESE TWO SPECIALS CAN BE COMBINED! The BOGO rate applies only applies to sailings May 8 or 22, June 5 or 19, July 3, 17, 31 or August 14 or 20. The Insiders Code will work for sailings at least through the end of the November. If you use both codes, you can end up paying as little as $478 per person (for an inside cabin in the May shoulder season)!