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Solo Travel Volunteering. As you plan your next solo travel, consider combining a new adventure abroad with volunteering with a local charity.
Solo Travel Volunteering. Dominican Republic:
I had the opportunity during a past summer to travel to La Romana, Dominican Republic where I had planned to meet up with a separate local group to visit the Orphanage of Ninos de Cristo. This wonderful home for 100 girls and 50 boys was founded in the 1990’s. Unlike prior trips, I had not made a list of sights to see but had the sole objective of meeting the children and finding out how those of ordinary individuals could be of some assistance in the long run.
The location could not have been better since it was close enough to try to return in the future and combined with my long time love of the Caribbean. Starting in my middle school days, I had been intrigued by the prospect of traveling to distant lands, especially the palm-filled tropics. That childhood dream was first realized as a teenager when I took my first abroad to participate in a Y project in Trinidad.
Solo Travel Volunteering: Getting There:
Flying low over the Bahamas, even at 30,000 feet it was possible to see the coral reefs and the aquamarine water below. As the plane circled over the Dominican Republic, I was surprised at how very green it was even in the midst of summer.
The next morning was the initial visit with the 100 delightful girls. (The 50 boys have a separate campus which was part of a subsequent visit.) Although not generally timid, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin to try to meet such a large group at one. I was pleased when a 9 year old girl came forward and without a word took me by the hand escorting me in to meet everyone.
I quickly discovered how much we all had to talk about when:
- I found another fan of CSI Miami reruns
- I saw another “American” visitor, Secretariat, a toy of Derby fame
- I learned that the children’s building block game was too difficult for us adults to fathom
- I heard about the girls’ interest in careers, especially in medicine and law
By the end of the second day, there was the chance to play volleyball, watch or try to learn the teenaged girls’ dance moves and gaze at two toddlers giving their teddy bear a high flying ride on the swing set.
Having spent part of my high school years in Florida, I have had a long time interest in Spanish heritage and language which became my college minor. I was wary of making comical mistakes like offering a puzzled listener a small rabbit (conejo) rather than requested advice (consejo). Having spent many hours listening to the news on Univision, I found a real cultural connection in being able to have meaningful conversations from being mutual fans of Aventura Animal or Reino Animal to the reopening of the Cuban Embassy back home in Washington.
Not all funny moments result from errors in translation. Sitting by the hotel pool one afternoon, I was surprised to see what looked like a spotted mountain lion lurking nearby. I went to alert the pool attendant that a “wild animal” was wandering around the pool. I was quickly reassured this was just the resort’s mascot. (Apparently, the “beast” was a breed unknown in the US but looked a lot like a Jaguar medium-sized cub visiting from the Amazon!) Fortunately I hadn’t panicked and sounded a broader alarm!
Solo Travel Volunteering. Ways to Conrtibute:
Traveling abroad in support of international charities/projects is generally confined to a set period of time. Having read of the contributions by global foundations and famous entertainers, I had not expected to find what practical solutions existed other than cash contributions. When visiting the boys’ campus, I was struck by the popularity of Spiderman from sunglasses to tee shirts and on the brightly covered sheets on each of the 50 bunk beds. I learned that these great gifts had been provided by a corporate donor giving me an aha moment as to how we individuals could look in our own communities for parallel opportunities to contribute.
During the visit, one of the young girls turned to me and said she would like to be my sister. Although I never made it to even one tourist sight, the memories of my visit to the Ninos de Cristo will outlast even the memories of the best Caribbean sunsets and pristine beaches.