As most of you know by now, my attendance on the final Fathom pilot trip made a huge impact on the trajectory of my life. I’d been thinking a lot about building volunteering into my travels and giving back to those people who so openly share their cities or countries with me as a visitor. Participating in impact activities like planting trees on the beach, working with children on their English, and working with women in a recycling paper co-op, confirmed that this path was one I needed to explore further.
While I appreciate the long-term impact of other Fathom projects, when I first heard about the opportunity to install concrete floors into people’s homes and see the immediate impact, I knew I had to return to the Dominican Republic and experience this activity specifically. On our second day in the Dominican Republic, Katie and I joined other Fathom travelers to complete this impact activity for three homes.
We didn’t have the skills, but we had the manpower, and more importantly, the spirit. With a little help from locals who knew what they were doing, a few travelers worked to mix the concrete a few houses down, right on the ground. The rest of us stood in line, passing full buckets of concrete to the houses and then empty buckets back to the concrete pile. We were singing and laughing and getting to know each other and the homeowners in the process. It was incredibly hot, made even hotter by the instructions from Fathom to wear long pants and sneakers, but people weren’t focused on that. We were determined to get our work done, chugging as many bottles of water it took to make that happen. I know there are varying opinions about volunteering abroad, and someone who wanted to might suggest that we were in the way, but without the manpower of the travelers, there’s little chance that three houses would have been done in the time that they were. It would have taken a longer time, maybe even several days, and would have been so much more grueling (especially in the heat) for the skilled workers, so I did feel good about what we were doing.
The two homes out of the three that I had a part in belonged to a gentleman in his 40s who had lived for 20 years in the area and a young family with an infant baby. I spoke with the homeowners in Spanish throughout the day. When I told the gentleman that his house was pretty, my heart broke a little when he responded, “No, es feo” meaning, “No, it’s ugly.” I didn’t want him to think I was making fun so I explained that his house was one of my favorite colors, and it truly was beautiful. When I spoke to the young couple, the mother’s jaw dropped when I told her how old I was, and I realized that I was almost twice her age, at just 31.
One of the things Fathom teaches in its onboard classes before volunteering is the concept of “alongsidedness” – working side-by-side with the locals, which is what we did that day. The homeowners and the neighbors were right by our sides, passing buckets along with the rest of us. I even had a maybe four-year-old boy next to me for some time passing me empty buckets as if it were the easiest thing he’d done all week.
Another thing Fathom stresses is to not pity the people who we are working with. In comparison to what some of us are used to, the houses that were in this neighborhood were quite different, but the reality is that you don’t need much, which is something I keep being reminded of on my travels this year. In warm climates, you aren’t spending as much time indoors, and people in other areas don’t feel the need to own as many things as we do, as Americans. When I was moving out of New York, I donated so many things I’d collected that I hadn’t ever used or had no need for. It’s not about all that you own elsewhere in the world.
It was challenging for Katie and I to express our feelings about the day later that night and it’s also why it’s taken me so long to write this post. Neither of us had ever done something like what we did that day and it was obvious that it pulled on both of our heartstrings and would be something we think about a lot in the future. For me, it was the final confirmation I needed, the last push to quit my job and try to do what I can do around the world to help others who might be interested in a change.
Muchas gracias to Fathom for hosting us on the cruise. Opinions are always my own.