The world is a marvelous place, home to many cultures, beautiful scenery, and many undiscovered beauties. Since I was a child, I dreamt of traveling this beautiful blue marble, called Earth. I had no enthusiasm looking at brochures of people in exotic countries that were exploring the swimming pool. I knew travel could and should have meaning. Traveling is more than seeing and doing; it’s about connecting, immersing yourself in new things; sharing stories and engaging with locals and fellow travelers on a personal level that transcends culture and turns complete strangers into friends. I didn’t explore on air-conditioned tour buses either. I wanted to be brought deep into a culture to understand it. Travel is about the exploration and discovery of the world, so I sought out to find the people that weren’t in travel guides.
In my history class, I closed my eyes, spun the globe and pointed at a random place. The first few times, I landed on random spots of the ocean. (I’m not ruling the ocean out, but until I learn to breathe under water, I think I’ll place the ocean at the bottom of my bucket list. I finally landed on the tropical Dominican Republic.
Situated along the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Plata is a hidden gem in a country typically known for its glamorous resorts. However, I was not here to see the Americanized resorts. I was here to uphold the purpose of travel; to transform lives.
When I found out more than 3 million Dominicans didn’t have access to safe, clean water, I knew I had to do something. Partnering with a local Dominican agency, Entrena, I helped craft water filters that would improve the health of the families that would use them. Needless to say, I now have a greater appreciation for the water I drink knowing that some people don’t have access to any.
With improved health, people are able to go to work to support their families. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with a cacao and women’s chocolate cooperative in partnership with another Dominican agency, IDDI (Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral, Inc.). In the chocolate factory, I helped plant cacao trees, made chocolate, and packaged various chocolate products such as candy bars, wines, and cooking products. The process was messy, but I lived my best nightmare; being covered in chocolate!
In the week that I was in the Dominican Republic, I experienced so many situations that made for intriguing stories to tell. I found that stories became a large part of how we learn. They burn lessons into our memories that we remember forever. Right down to that first time fainting in the heat. When we learned that this tiny blue marble we call the world has rules, “You must drink water if you’re going to be laying concrete in the heat.” An unforgettable lesson brought to you by your memories. I will always remember the time I walked what seemed to be miles into the mountains to help lay concrete for a family that lived in a house with dirt floors. To avoid having to take bathroom breaks, I refused water… and now I have a lesson that will not need any reviewing.
Through everything, I saw the most gratitude in a culture of people who seemed to have nothing but emotions – and the strongest was love. I saw that love is a currency that functions in reverse. The only way to be wealthy of it is to give more of it away and that’s what makes a person rich.
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