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Volunteering in the Dominican Republic - Part 1

Create your own travel plan or go with an organization?

I decided to go with an organization and signed up to teach English to young children in an impoverished area just outside of Santo Domingo for 12 weeks. The organization that I travelled with required that all teachers complete a "Teaching English as a Foreign Language" course ($1,000). It was also required that we pay in advance for the cost of our accommodations and food (which included 2 meals - breakfast and supper) at approximately $1,000 per month.

By Canadian standards, these amounts seemed fairly reasonable, however when we shared with local Dominican people how much money we spent on our Dominican Republic VolunteeringDominican Republic Volunteeringvolunteer experience, they expressed complete shock at the amount. The response consistently left our group of 6 volunteers feeling a little embarrassed and taken advantage of, definitely dampening the "do good" feeling of the experience.

We didn't share the fact that the refrigerator was not working and our food spoiled regularly so we often ate out. We didn´t elaborate that the food that was delivered once per week did not equate to the combined contribution of 6 paying people. Nor did we share that our travel fare to our placements weren´t included in the placement costs. For example, my placement required that I take three separate cars and a motorcycle ride, which cost over $200 pesos per day (approximately $6 dollars per day). By Dominican standards (and actually mine too) this is a lot of money when you're volunteering.

The best part of the story though was when we told locals we were sharing a one-bedroom with three bunk beds!! Yep, 6 women with lots of clothes, shoes, suitcases, make-up and jewelry shared one room and one bathroom.

Our apartment was behind a posh house in an upper middle class neighbourhood and we made friends who rented a three bedroom executive condo down the road. The condo was fully furnished with air conditioning, stainless steal appliances, a security guard for $2,000 per month - we were paying $6,000...

But I was still fairly happy that I chose a tour organization the first time around though.

Our coordinator was fantastic and really helpful. She tended to a few medical emergencies, called family during a tropical storm, arranged weekend travel plans, answered endless questions, translated, mediated personal conflicts between volunteers and on and on.

And to be honest, I actually liked our cozy little room, it made for some great stories and close bonds. Without a TV, we talked a lot more than we would have otherwise.

If you decide to volunteer with a company, ask a lot of questions. If you're a little more adventurous and want create your own plans, start by contacting your country's embassy in the destination country for recommendations of accommodation and reliable and safe organizations to volunteer with. Also, read the online classifieds to get an idea of the cost of housing and connect with not-for-profit organizations.

That is just a start... but even better, if you can talk to a local - they will tell it like it is.

About Kelly McIntyre

Kelly holds a Masters Degree in Counselling and has nearly ten years professional experience working directly with individuals to facilitate action toward their employment and life goals. In 2007, Kelly faced her deepest fears, developed new personal truths and followed her dreams of living in the sun and moved to the Caribbean! Now as a Career/Life Coach, Kelly applies her knowledge of how to create a life you love at Discover Your Life Purpose.  

More of Kelly:

Read Part 2 ~ The Children
Read Part 3 ~ Transportaion in the Domincan Republic

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Well, you should specify about the rents on the room you rented, I mean, RD$6000 or US$6000 for a room? if it was pesos, in a upper-middle class neighborhood, it wasn't so bad, but if was US$, you were being ripped off royaly :( not uncommon for foreigners. Next time you decide to do this, there are a lot of options for accommodations on family houses on our country. You could ask religious institutions for that, and you could end paying a fraction of the cost you had :D. More money on your pocket means, you can workout more help for the people, and also you get to know people who can take you to tour the country, which by the way is beautiful, cheap to do, and wonderful people to meet. My mom for example, runs these services for missionaries that came oh her church. Regards, Angelo

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