Read about Calista Schloessmann, Rustic alumni, and her rustic journey that has led to her continued efforts to help provide safe and dignified housing to families in the Dominican Republic.
What drew you to Rustic Pathways?
Originally, the Rustic Pathways travel experiences drew me to them because of their mission to expose students in the United States to a myriad of diverse cultures and lifestyles, as well as the virtue of community volunteer service. Ultimately, my passion for Latin American service trips sparked my initiative in traveling with the Rustic Pathways team to the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2019. The cultural immersion of the Dominican Republic trip was an aspect that the foundation capitalized on in its advertisement of the Mountain Air Service Trip in the La Vega province mountains. The opportunity to combine my passions of community service and immersion in Latin American cultures was a quality that the Rustic Pathways programs preserve well.
Why did the Mountain Air Service program in the Dominican Republic appeal to you?
The program appealed to me because of its involvement of the community in the service project, which consisted of working alongside community members to place a pipe transporting water to the villagers’ homes in the mountains of Jarabacoa. Since I knew that I would be using my Spanish to assist in the placement of an irrigation feature with Dominican community members, that feature of Mountain Air appealed to me greatly. Besides, the experience of traveling to a Latin American country and the appeal of Latin American cultural immersion presented an incredible opportunity to grow and learn not solely as a community volunteer, but as a cultural connoisseur.
Tell us about your time in the Dominican Republic and the service project you participated in.
My time in the Dominican Republic was incredibly meaningful, and yet riddled with different levels of challenge that were valuable to my personal journey of growth throughout the trip. The service trip consisted of digging and correctly placing a tube spanning hundreds of feet up on a hillside, all in the attempt to bring water access to local residents of the city of Jarabacoa. Placing the aqueduct in the hillside took up to twenty hours of rigorous digging, shoveling, pick-axing, and precise placement to accomplish.
One of the most meaningful aspects of the program was interacting with the local community members and using teamwork despite the language barrier to help a community in need. When our group was not working with the community in this effort, we were engaged in shorter cultural immersion trips, which included visiting historical locations, taking evening dance lessons, participating in excursions such as swimming and snorkeling, and interacting with multiple groups of locals. It was incredible to observe that even within a country as small as the Dominican Republic, the culture is so complex and varied among its regions, and that there even exist specific regional dialects depending on the part of the country to which one travels.
What about your time in the Dominican Republic inspired you to continue to help the community after your time there? Was there a particular moment or meeting someone?
Traveling to the Dominican Republic was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. I believe that the action of working side by side with the community members inspired me in my desire to continue exerting impact on the community. There was indeed a specific instance in which I met a young local boy named Brallan around the age of twelve. He and I immediately developed a close bond; he started to call me ‘hermana,’ his sister, and I felt that we were both an inspiration for one another during the time that we worked in the mountainside to properly place the water canal.
To this day, we remain in contact, and I derive so much satisfaction from hearing from him about his life and that of his family’s. Another connection that sparked my interest in giving back was a connection that I made with a Dominican boy of my age whose brother worked at the lodge where we stayed. I talked to him and his brother about the value of learning English, and after exchanging Whatsapp information, I can say that he is one of my closest friends to date. More or less, the general experience of camaraderie that I established with our Dominican friends, hosts and neighbors reminds me of why I want to continue supporting my fundraising project.
Tell us about your fundraiser!
The Monte Coca Batey fundraiser assists with the safe design and proper construction of homes for underprivileged Dominican workers and their families in the neighborhood of Monte Coca, located in the Dominican province of Hato Mayor del Rey. The Rustic Pathways Foundation has been working in the Monte Coca Batey area since 2012, alongside the Monte Coca Neighborhood Association and a human rights’ protection agency committed to improving living outcomes within Dominican bateyes, called ASCALA. Beginning with building latrines, the Rustic Pathways company extended its level of outreach to constructing homes. The first home was successfully completed in 2014, and as of the date, 12 homes have been constructed in the Monte Coca neighborhood, positively impacting more than 145 individuals. Many of these individuals are actually either Haitian immigrants or have Haitian roots, and work in hard labor with sugar production companies that pay them very low rates. In order to combat the level of poverty that is the reality for these families, the Rustic Pathways Foundation has prioritized the construction of 35 homes. My personal fundraiser has raised over $1,000, but my goal has been adjusted to $10,000. After all, it costs $500 to install a functioning roof in the community, and $9200 to construct an entire home. As of yet, the project has raised more than $20,000, and assisting with this project will allow for the safe construction of many more houses. All funds that donations generate go directly to the purchase of the housing materials and the actual construction of the homes.
In order to promote my project, I’ve been using various forms of social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, to spread awareness about this incredible project. I’ve created both a Facebook and Instagram page @cmsfundraising for promotion, and I have created a group for fundraising and a network of contacts through Facebook.
Why does this particular community and project speak to you?
This particular community speaks to me because it is a community of immigrants and people deeply connected to their heritage, culture and the well-being of their families. Because I feel deeply connected to the Dominican communal aspect of culture, this project spoke to me from the beginning. The project itself speaks to me because it provides dignity and a higher standard of living for Dominican communities, a much-needed advancement in batey labor communities.
Is there anything else you’d like to add, a tidbit about yourself?
Learning the Spanish language and immersing myself in various aspects of the culture has been a theme that has brought me happiness, fulfillment, ambition, and a desire to study Latin American culture and critical issues at the university and professional level. It brings me satisfaction to monitor the progress I have made in learning the Spanish language; over a year my grammatical command and syntax flow has improved greatly. I’ve decided that it is in my best interest to dedicate my career to helping Latin American communities around the world, and that in college, I’d like to study global and Latin American affairs. Apart from traveling to the Dominican Republic with Rustic Pathways, I’ve traveled to Mexico to realize a service trip in a cancer shelter and to Costa Rica to study the Spanish language. However, most of the Spanish I’ve learned is from self-study and immersive practice where I live in Los Angeles, where my commitment to volunteering in hospitals has helped me progress in my comprehension and command of the language.
I feel that I possess a special attachment to Latin American cultures, and immersing myself in such dynamics has changed the trajectory of my life’s journey. I try to speak Spanish every day for multiple hours, and promoting my fundraising project has been no exception to this rule.
To help Calista meet her fundraising goals please visit the fundraising page.