Smiles, tropical breeze, underground caves, human spirit and incredible beaches are some of the words that come to mind as we reflect back on our recent trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. We managed to strike a balance between having a great time and still contributing back into the lives of those who make it all possible. We dared to venture into the Dominican countryside and were rewarded by welcoming families and a warmth that can only be experienced and not explained. Our trip highlight was distributing school supplies to the children who have a very demanding life – only minutes away from all-inclusive resorts where you have access to every luxury you can possibly imagine. Some of these children spend most of their day by the road side trying to sell fruits to tourists who zip by on their ATV’s. This travelogues is a bit different to our other ones as it is centered around the lives of some of these children– we are pleased to let you know that our team managed to bring smiles on the faces of 27 children who otherwise face a very difficult life. Here is a snapshot supported by pictures:
- Beach Performers: This group of three brothers basically spends the entire day doing up and down the beach in scorching 35C temperatures. Dancing and asking for tips to make a couple of dollars a day.
- Leather worker: This child has a tough life. He spends his morning working as a mechanic. Attends school in the afternoon and helps his dad and grandfather out in the leather shop in the evening. This smile after receiving the gift says it all. His dad gave us leather bracelet as gifts.
- Fruit Seller: This girl spends 6 hours every day selling Avacados in the church parking lot. She makes about 2 to 3 dollars in that time period only to support her education. She studies in the afternoon and works at home in the night. In return for her gift, she gave us an avocado as a gift back!
- The Painters.. Alberto, Ronnie and their family: The father is a gifted painter. The family has a shop which also is the garage for the scooter. The home which consists of two rooms is attached to the shop. The physical space available to this family can be encompassed in a single picture. We still remember four year old Ronnie running around the house screaming “regalo, regalo” which means gift in Spanish.
- Family in the Dominican countryside. This family lives in very basic condition, right next to a road that is used frequently by tourist for ATV excursions. The tourist zip by and few stop to connect with them.
Reflections and a couple of thoughts to consider:
- When we travel, we have the option to be on the tourist track OR we have the option to go off the beaten trek and venture into the lives of people to walk out with even better memories. What type of tourist will you be in your next trip?
- What moved us the most was that almost everyone we gave a present to gave us something in return. It was whatever they had, whatever they could spare, whatever they could afford. They didn’t take our effort for granted or tried to exploit it.. that meant a lot to us. We were invited into homes and offered customary beverages. This was contradictory to the sales pressure you felt in most of the touristy places. In our own lives, I walk out with a lesson to truly appreciate the kindness of others, especially if it is unconditional with no strings attached.
- Social inequality – are we contributing to it through bystander apathy? The inequality that you see within a short physical distance, within social structure and within a few minutes was ubiquitous. It was right in front of us but a lot of tourists seemed immune to it. As an example, I have included a couple of pictures form the hard rock resort that has an incredible 5 km perimeter. It includes things like Madonna’s Grammy award Mercedes amongst other things and is minutes from the ‘real Dominican’. The positive message really is that we can drive a grass root change by dedicating small portions of our trip to help those who need it the most. It’s not about the magnitude of impact but it really starts with being conscious of the inequality and doing something about it, however small it may be, to make a difference. After all, the impact of making a child smile cannot be measured!
Sit back and enjoy the pictures. In summary, we did our fair share of beach time, crazy ATV driving, volleyball and all the stuff you do on vacation. However what made it truly rewarding was really connecting with the local people – it’s a feeling like no other.