Summer 2022: Off the Beaten Trail in the Dominican Republic
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Summer 2022: Off the Beaten Trail in the Dominican Republic

Tourism has been booming in the Dominican Republic, setting booking records in recent months. About half of the international visitors who’ve come to the Caribbean nation in the past year stayed in Punta Cana – a resort area on the east coast of the country. Others hang out in the capital city of Santo Domingo or head to the white sand beaches on the northeastern coast.

Not many tourists travel to areas where Rustic Pathways students stay and work during their programs. These include areas ranging from the mountain-region of Jaraboacoa in the center of the country to coastal areas in the south like Juan Dolio and Bayahibe.

Time spent in these areas gives students an authentic travel experience, allowing them to immerse themselves in the local culture. So far, these efforts are paying off this summer both for the local communities and for the students.

Learning While Serving

Rustic Pathways students have already completed several service projects in the Dominican Republic in the past few weeks, and there’s still more work ahead. In June, sessions for both the Public Health in the Caribbean and Mountain Air and Island Living programs were held, and the first session of the Marine Life program got off the ground.

For the Mountain Air program the focus is water access. Students took an open air truck to and from service projects in Jaraboacoa. Their job was to dig a trench to lay pipes to bring clean potable water to a local community. Community Manager AnaMaria Garcia was thrilled to see the results.

“This community was super engaged and thankful for this project and the students’ hard work. You can feel the joy radiating during moments shared across cultures and languages,” Garcia said.

Quinn Bissetta, who traveled with this program back in 2014, says a similar project she worked on in the Dominican Republic still impacts her today. She attended Cornell University after high school, graduated, and then moved into a career in human resources. But she still reflects on her time in the Caribbean nation.

“To date, this is the most fulfilling project I have ever been a part of. The idea of soon having running water, something I certainly took for granted, sparked joy in the eyes of the community members,” Bissetta said. “I never again complained about the hot water running out once I returned home to the U.S.”

This kind of service may have the most impact, but the students traveling this summer also had other memorable adventures. This included beach time and snorkeling in Campos de Añil in Sosua.

Photo: Rustic Pathways

The group also got to visit a waterfall, drink smoothies, and have an incredible final discussion about their time in the Dominican Republic. Afterwards, they finished off their last day together in Santo Domingo exploring the Colonial Zone.

This is an activity the students in the Public Health Program also enjoy. But first these students began their program by touring San Pedro and enjoying a baile folclórico, which is a dance presentation. Then it was time to get busy.

The students launched into their medical lessons by visiting a hospital. There they learned about access to health care in the Dominican Republic and the region they were staying in – Juan Dolio.

Later, the teens received CPR and First Aid training. They put this knowledge to good use when they ran a first aid clinic in the community where they were doing service.

The group also did other projects in the Bateyes, which is a rural community of sugarcane workers. They worked together to mix and make cement and lay down floors. They also stacked bricks to build a latrine, ensuring a healthier environment for local workers.

Along the way, the teens learned about the importance of sugarcane to the community. They had an impactful debrief after a day of service and got to see how workers do their jobs in the fields.

When they weren’t providing service, the students took a break from their hard work by walking down the road to the beach and enjoying a nice afternoon by the water. They also celebrated the 16th birthday of one of the students. Other stops included a visit to Playa Rincon in Samana, where they soaked up the sun on the beach. It was a perfect combination of sun and service.

Once their program was finished, program leaders turned their attention to the students traveling with the Marine Life and Coastal Restoration program. They’ll spend time on the southern part of the island learning about coral reefs and the effects of irresponsible tourism.

Read: Racing to Save Two Sea Animals in the Dominican Republic

Liv Woodruff who traveled with this program in 2019 said the days melted together during this program. Along the way, she learned about the local environment and culture, while also making new friends.

Photo Liv Woodruff

“My group slowly became a family, as late night games of Spike Ball and bilingual Bananagrams became our nightly rituals,” Woodruff said. “The boats we rode on and the turquoise blue waters became both our playgrounds and projects, as we attempted to do our part to save the ocean.”

For students interested in having a similar experience, there are still some spots available in these programs later this summer. For more information, please visit our Dominican Republic program page.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer