Greetings from the Dominican Republic! We officially had our first day in La República Dominicana and already we’re speaking Spanglish, getting to know our campers, and learning the ins and outs of life in Sabaneta. It’s incredible how quickly you can pick up the small customs and start to feel a little more at ease even as we’ve traded pines for palms, burgers for pollo guisado, and Scatico’s green and white for the DREAM Project’s blue and orange.
Our day started with a 9 am breakfast (some extra sleep was needed after a late arrival last night) at our new digs: The Beachcomber. Guava juice, bacon (we’re not in Elizaville anymore!), and scrambled eggs go well with our not-too-shabby ocean view.
From the Beachcomber we headed to the DREAM Center for a quick orientation. DREAM (Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring) has been operating as a non-profit on the country’s north coast for over a decade, and their programs now reach hundreds of kids and thousands of community and family members. From a Montessori pre-school, to job training for young adults and one-week summer camps (like what we’re doing) DREAM impacts the community in countless ways, and it feels amazing to partner with an organization whose name is met with a smile and an “Ooooh! So you’re with DREAM!” on the street. Following orientation, we were serenaded by the DREAM band – they chose a bachata version of classic “Stand By Me””— and then we were off to El Caminante, our go-to Pica Pollo (aka chicken joint) for lunch.
Post lunch it was finally time to head to the school where we host the summer camp and meet a few of our campers! Some in sneakers, some in flip flops, but all with enormous smiles, around 20 of our to-be 60 campers came to show us around the neighborhood via a scavenger hunt. From their local pharmacy, to the “colmado” (like a bodega), gomera (tire joint), and cancha (b-ball court, this one spray painted with the NBA logo), we got a sense of daily life in Sabaneta– a small, low-income, suburban Dominican town. Already we are starting to get a feel for some of our campers’ personalities (the ones that always want a piggy back ride, the ones that need a little extra encouragement, the cousins that are attached at the hip), as they showed us their neighborhood spots.
While we toured, we were equipped with gloves and garbage bags so we could begin gathering plastic bottles and cans for our recyclable materials mural. Garbage disposal is a major issue in the DR, and recycling is an important agenda DREAM is attempting to push. One of the four stations at camp will be converting the “trash” the campers collected into (hopefully) an amazing work of art (tagged with a Scatico CS, naturally). It was amazing to return to the school and see the basketball court the CITs of 2015 painted last year slightly worn by a year of love and use, and inspiring to know that our mural could be another contribution to bring smiles to a deserving group of kids.
We wrapped up our time with the campers with a “dinámica”– basically an icebreaker type activity– called “El Barco Se Hunde” (the boat is sinking). It’s hard to explain, but basically it involves a lot of skipping, chanting, and some hilarious poses (and we have video footage to prove it). It’s the kind of small, effortlessly fun camp game that gets everyone– whether they be 16-year-old American boys or 7-year-old Dominican girls– on the same page… feeling energized and embracing the spirit of camp.
Our day ended with an evening at Wilson’s “Jungle” adventure, a triple whammy of a bizarre zoo (if you can even call it that), boat ride, and beach bonfire dinner. Important things we learned at Wilson’s zoo:
- Don’t ever let a crocodile climb on your back
- Jeremy Reissman is a pro crab catcher (literally)
- Jamie Rosh is NOT a fan of snakes
- Jonny Abramowitz is an animal whisperer/ Dr. Doolittle in the making
- The CITs squarely fall into the dog over cat category
- Parrots need to nibble you before they’ll climb onto your shoulder
A sunset boat ride down the river was just the way to cool off after a jam-packed day (we tried to keep Titanic references to a minimum). Wilson is somewhat of the “Jefe” of Cabarete, and employs a range of kids to work at his beach restaurant. It’s located just where the river meets the ocean, a spot known as “La Boca,” where fishermen and surfers abound.
We capped our typical Dominican dinner off with some fresh piña and a bonfire, before heading back to the hotel for pool and pool (we actually have a billiards table in the hotel, which we’ve learned is a popular Dominican pastime.)
Tomorrow we’re embracing the Sunday spirit, with a full day of beach time and R&R! It’s been go-go-go here in the DR, but we appreciate taking the time to pause and attempt to put into words all that is happening on the ground some 1,500 miles away.