Summer Series on Purposeful Travel: Peru & The Dominican Republic

We finish our Summer Series on Purposeful Travel with two of our longest-running trips: the Dominican Republic and Peru. Both trips share nearly decade-long partnerships as well as extremely strong ties to the local communities. These are also experiences that are located in some of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, but truly take you to a different side of the country that few people see. 

Located in the heart of the Andes Mountains, our local Peruvian partners are heavily involved in educating and supporting the local community of Andahuaylillas. From community after-school programs to micro-enterprise initiatives helping to create clean burning stoves for the most needy, our groups have earned a special level of respect in this region. On the other side of Latin America sits the Caribbean island nation of the Dominican Republic. While we are based right on the beach, we also delve into eco-focused projects helping to construct schools and health clinics out of reusable plastic bottles. Over the past decade, our groups have helped develop dozens of buildings across the region that are still in use today.

We’ll dive into each of these countries below, shining a spotlight on some of the impact that we have on the ground – which is proving to be more important now more than ever.

Peru – Community Development in the Heart of the Andes

Peru is such a unique country. Straddling the Amazon rainforest and the rugged Pacific Coastline, the country is defined by the sky-high Andes Mountains. This is where we spend our time, exploring the rich history and cuisine of Peru while integrating ourselves into the village community of Andahuaylillas. While Cusco is a tourism hub and gateway to the famed Machu Picchu ruins (yes, we definitely make a visit here!), just 40 minutes down the road Andahuaylillas is truly a world unto itself. Time seems to have stood still with children running through the cobblestone streets and ancient mountains rising in the distance.

We’ve been sending groups to Costa Rica for nearly a decade. Our local partner and guide, Miguel, not only grew up here, but shares a special bond with the community. For nearly 10 years, Miguel has been hosting our groups at his century-old hacienda, taking each traveler in as part of his family for the 10 days we spend together. Community engagement is central to our purpose on the ground here. Whether it’s helping to improve the English of local school children or helping create sustainable micro-businesses for local residents, we do our best to ensure a long-term impact.

  • Impact through Education – Education is key to unlocking the potential of the children here in Andahuaylillas. That’s why we take the time to help some of the local school children with their English and basic math skills. These informal afterschool programs have been something that our groups have helped with since the start and many of the original students still come back to visit when our groups are in town.
  • Micro-enterprises for the most at-need Our recent groups since the pandemic have been heavily involved in helping the community develop small micro-businesses to help supplement lost income. For example, one family received a chicken coop and chickens which can be used to create a small business selling eggs. We also helped plant gardens for organic vegetables and created clean burning stoves which can be used to bake a variety of goods in the home.
  • Project Azul Wasi – Azul Wasi is a home for children and teenagers at risk that  were abandoned in the streets of Cusco. It was founded in 2002 by a former police officer to serve as a safe place for education, growth and mentorship. The goal is to help break the cycle of poverty and help create independence for these youth. We spend a day with Alcides, the founder, exploring this innovative non-profit and, after cooking lunch together, meet the boys and see some of the projects at work.
  • The Q’ewar Project – Begun in early 2002, the Q’ewar Project helps empower women in the community. By providing open and bright workshops where beautiful handcrafted dolls, doll clothing and other articles are created, Q’ewar successfully created an atmosphere which fosters self-esteem, personal growth and a means to gain economic independence through learning life skills in a community setting. We spend an afternoon with the founders and get to meet some of these women (and even learn how to weave their iconic dolls!).

The Dominican Republic – Community Impact in the Caribbean

The island of the Hispaniola which includes the Dominican Republic is truly a Caribbean paradise. White sand beaches, turquoise Caribbean waters and picture perfect temperatures year-round. While most people flock to the crowded tourist-hub of Punta Cana, we head to the more off-the-beaten track (and in our opinion more beautiful) North Coast of the island. Here, the rhythms of life are a bit slower and tacky tourist attractions are difficult to come by. 

Volunteer vacation Dominican Republic

This is also where we have been based for over a decade. The small communities that dot the coastline are home to some of the friendliest and most welcoming people on the island. We’ll spend a portion of our time helping to continue a legacy set of projects that have helped change the face of some communities. We’ll take plastic bottles (which unfortunately are washing up on the beaches in greater numbers) and repurpose them to build eco-buildings which will be used as homes, schools, health clinics and community centers. We’ll also visit some of closest friends in the area, including local beekeepers, while learning about the complex history and social structures of the island. The other portion of the trip will be spent exploring the beautiful corners of the coast from Dudu National Park to snorkeling over the colorful coral reefs just offshore.

  • Eco-Buildings Made from Reusable Plastic Bottles – Plastic pollution is a known and growing environmental issue across the world. While there is no silver bullet solution to this problem, our partners in the Dominican are taking a highly-innovative local approach to help solve the crisis. Utilizing plastic bottles that wash up on the beaches and are discarded on the side of the roads in town, we are repurposing these to build schools, medical clinics, community centers and houses in these local communities. How are the bottles used in something like this? The bottles serve as the foundation for the walls and, when constructed correctly, prove to be resilient with all of the structures we’ve created through the years still standing. 
  • Haitian Bateys – The Dominican Republic shares a very complicated border with Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. This brings forth a range of challenges as well as migration into the more resource-rich Dominican. Bateys, or communities of displaced Haitian people, are scattered throughout the North coast and are home to some of the most friendly people you’ll encounter on your trip. Many of these Haitian migrants lack basic rights in the country so are also in the most need of our eco-structures and support. We’ll visit one of several Haitian Bateys while on the ground in the Dominican. 
  • Supporting micro-enterprises – We’ll also support micro-enterprises that are active on the North Coast of the island. One of the most long-standing partnerships is with a local beekeeper that produces organic honey for sale to communities (and visitors like yourself) on the island. We’ll learn about traditional techniques and sustainability challenges as well as visit the local bee farm. We’ll lend a hand helping to construct new bee boxes for the season and learning about the fascinating ways that bees produce this honey. 

This concludes our Summer Series on Purposeful Travel. We hope that you’ve been inspired by some of the ways that travel can make the world a better place especially in the incredibly complex times that we currently live in.

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