Dominican Republic | Reduce, Reuse, RePapel

“I work hard for the money…So hard for the money…” – the woman next to me sang out while we sat ripping paper on a warm day in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. It was just one of many songs we sang together to pass the time, but it was the one where her voice rang out the strongest. She could have definitely been on Dominican Idol. And she does work hard for the money. Not just for herself, but for other women at RePapel, and for the local economy of Puerto Plata. We spent our last morning volunteering with Fathom Travel at RePapel, a women’s co-op that recycles old office paper into beautiful notecards, postcards, and other paper products.


If you haven’t read my prior posts about Fathom, start here for a recap, here for the first day – spent planting trees – and here for the second day – spent at a school. I was incredibly happy {the kind of happy that made me feel like I was at a Bruce Springsteen concert for three whole days} and grateful for the experience the entire time, but it all really hit me that third day at RePapel.

Ever since I read Nicholas Kristof’s & Sheryl WuDunn’s “Half the Sky” about the oppression of women and opportunity for change in the developing world, I’ve been trying to determine how I can work and connect with other women while traveling. When I heard that Fathom works with both RePapel and Chocal (a women’s chocolate production co-op), I was hoping we’d get a chance to work with one of these businesses on my trip. {Spoiler Alert: I’ll have the opportunity to work with Chocal when I return to the DR with Fathom in June!}


The women who work at RePapel are able to work the hours that they are available, which gives them financial independence and the freedom to go home and take care of their children or parents or whatever else they need or want to do. These women are supporting their families and helping boost the local economy. Having women earn money is traditionally more advantageous to the local community than having men earn it – sorry, dudes. Studies show that 90% of money given to women will stay in the local community compared to 35% of money given to men.¹

These particular women are AMAZING. Each and every one of them was welcoming, kind, and inspirational. And not only is RePapel helping local women and the economy, but they are also reducing the amount of garbage on the island by making something out of it and by bringing attention to the importance of recycling. We’d picked up 25 bags of garbage from the beaches two days prior while we were planting trees so I was glad that awareness was being brought to this issue.


After introductions, where many of the women shared their own stories about their history of working with RePapel, our group of travelers split up into teams and got a lesson and our hands dirty at each step of the paper-making process.

The first step was tearing up paper that RePapel had collected from offices into small pieces, keeping the pure white parts of the paper separate from any piece with ink. The next step was using a washing machine and a blender to make a liquid from which we would create the new paper. Then we dunked wired frames into the liquid, held the frames up to get the water out, flipped over the frames quickly to separate the paper, and dried it in the bright Dominican sun. The most physical step was rolling the paper as flat as possible once it was dried enough, but the ladies encouraged us to dance while we rolled cans, tubes, and rolling pins across our work. We then sat at a station inside and worked on making some cute coasters from the recycled paper that the women of RePapel can sell or use to promote their other products.

While we were working, we made connections with the women guiding us through the process. The woman sitting next to me during the first step, the Dominican Idol, spoke very good English though she was helping me practice my Spanish as well. She was sad for me that I didn’t have a husband though I told her it was perfectly fine. She told me about her family and that she was so happy that we’d come to visit so that she could spend time with us instead of worrying about anything back home that day.


But what I didn’t tell my new friend was how happy I was to have visited RePapel that day, for the exact same reason – to not worry about anything back home that day – but also for so much more. The biggest thing I learned in the Dominican Republic was that I want to spend as much time as possible connecting with the local communities when I travel. I have wanted to volunteer abroad for a while and having such an amazing experience with Fathom really solidified that this is how I’m supposed to be traveling. Recognizing that at RePapel was an amazing moment and is something I’ll always remember.


I’m no stranger to emotions, so it didn’t surprise me when I started to tear up as we were leaving. I was sad to leave my new friends at RePapel, my new friends at IDDI, some of whom I’d spent time with planting trees as well, and I was sad to leave this experience with Fathom Travel. But mostly I was happy to have had it.


Muchas (x 1000) gracias to Fathom for hosting me on this journey. Opinions are always my own.

13 Responses

  1. Hi Erin
    I adore what you did for this community! I’m also searching for a way to help women all over the world to get a voice. I think this is something very important and it’s wonderful to see how you make time for them.
    I didn’t know that the process of recycling paper was actually that easy! I thought you needed a lot of industrial machines and new technology for that, but it seems that only a washing machine comes in handy enough 😉
    Thanks for the inspiration, I might do this as well during my travels.




    1. Andrea

      I admire both of you for your interests in supporting low income women and vulnerable communities! I encourage you to follow Repapel in Instagram and Facebook or contact us in Santo Domingo if you ever need anything. We’ll be glad to help!!


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