just spent three days in the Dominican Republic with Carnival Corporation’s new cruise line Fathom, which offers a unique social impact travel experience. After a day on the ship sailing towards Puerto Plata, we arrived in Amber Cove where we could choose to participate in a variety of impact activities, more traditional touring of the area, or a range of active fun activities like snorkeling or zip lining.
There were lots of impact activities to participate in but by far the best thing I experienced was being part of a team that put in a concrete floor for a young family.
The mother and her kids were onsite, their few possessions piled outside the house for all to see, and her tiny house laid bare. It was a very vulnerable position for her to be in. Our crew arrived about 9 a.m. and with the help of the local company IDDI which facilitated and managed the project, plus a handful of strong and experienced local men, we proceeded to quickly get to work mixing the concrete, shoveling it into buckets and laying the floor in the family’s approximately 20 x 20 ft house.
The work was done fast and efficiently and while there was some standing-around time while one crew caught up on the mixing, or the other crew had to trowel and level the floor, it was pretty steady work for about two and a half hours.
All the while, the mother, holding a baby, and her little children stood by and watched quietly and shyly. The two little boys were confined to the one finished room where some of the furniture had been piled, and they hung out a window smiling or reading their books and watching.
Without our help that day, it would have taken one man or even two men probably at least a week of back-breaking labor to accomplish what we did in about three hours.
I’ve participated in some of the other Fathom projects; I loved the experience of teaching a student English, or working with the ladies in the paper recycling where we quadrupled their production for the week, but the concrete floor project was different.
For this family, and for the family which received a floor the previous day, we had no doubt that we had made a tangible difference in their lives, their health, their safety, their future. This was a real family, their kids, their few possessions gathered in a pile beside the house for all to see.
But now having a concrete floor meant the house could stay clean, the children wouldn’t have to play in the dirt, and the dust mites and fleas wouldn’t have a place to hide. The constant dust of a dirt floor wouldn’t cause respiratory problems for the children, breathing problems that could lead to illness leading to staying home from school sick, leading to dropouts, leading to perpetuating that cycle of poverty. We could walk away knowing that on that day at least we’d helped that one family take a small step towards breaking that cycle.