When Bruce and I first committed to traveling to the Dominican Republic (the DR) aboard the Adonia and participating in Fathom’s Impact Travel program, our vision was locked on Chocal. Volunteering at the cacao plantation and chocolate factory was what I had my heart set on, and Bruce was pleased with the plan.
Once aboard ship, though, our cohort leader, Colin, persuasively talked us into signing up to volunteer at the paper recycling co-op. RePapel is a women’s entrepreneurship initiative which turns wasted paper from the local community into recycled paper products that are sold to consumers.
We told Colin there was no way we would give up one of our Chocal activities, though, and RePapel was booked solid for our only available time—the Friday morning before the Adonia would set sail for her return to Miami. Sitting at 7th and 8th on the waitlist didn’t look promising; so, we opted on Friday to see if there were some no shows out at the RePapel bus.
As it turned out, we were in luck! A lady on our Chocal bus the previous day overheard us talking about our plan. At breakfast on Friday morning, she came over to our table to say her husband didn’t want to go; so, she wouldn’t go either. Would we like her tickets? Heck yeah!
Off we went to RePapel where we would help produce paper beads for jewelry and recycled paper for handicrafts to be sold by the women.
By working with the women of RePapel, we would help the ladies generate more income for their families. The co-op allows for flexible work schedules, so the women can spend more time at home caring for their children. Fathom’s website states, “Unemployed or underemployed local residents are able to transition to self-supporting entrepreneurs, proving that community-driven economic initiatives empower and sustain communities.”
Upon arrival at RePapel, we could hear the ladies singing. Our group of volunteers broke out in big smiles, looked at each other, and laughed. These ladies were having FUN! They were very happy to see us and gave us a warm welcome, as we made our way to the courtyard where we were split up into small groups.
Bruce and I were first sent to the jewelry workshop where we used strips of colorful paper that had been torn out from discarded magazines. We were shown how to make paper beads; however, Bruce and I were old pros at this task, since we had taught the handicraft in arts and crafts classes aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Line cruises.
Next, we were given a piece of cord to string a necklace from the paper beads and a variety of other beads made from dried tree seeds. These necklaces would be sold in their gift shop. Time was quite limited at this station, so I quickly assembled this necklace before our group was transferred to the paper recycling station:
The first step in this process is separating the clean portions of used paper from the portions with ink. We sat on the patio in a circle with one of the ladies while we tore sheets of the paper apart to separate these portions into different bins. While we worked, our guide answered questions about life in the DR.
The next step in their paper recycling process was to mix the small bits of torn paper with water in a washing machine to begin breaking down the fibers in the paper.
The wet, pulpy mixture is then scooped out of the machine and dumped in a blender (yes, the same kind you have at home to make your smoothies) to further break apart the fibers.
The fun part in the process came next. We were given a wooden-framed screen to use as a sifter to extract the cleaned recycled paper pulp from a huge sink where it was dumped from the blender. We then took it over to a table where we turned the screen over onto a piece of cardboard, pressed the screen, and then carefully lifted the screen off the wet paper. The newly-created paper was transferred to the cardboard to dry on racks out in the sun.
Once the paper is dried, it is removed from the cardboard and stacked onto another table. Here, used roll-on deodorant bottles get a second life as a manual “iron” to smooth out the screen pattern marks and wrinkles in the paper. This required some muscle—a great dryland workout to keep my swimmers’ shoulders and arms in shape!
These sheets of paper were ready for the women to make stationary, greeting cards, and other handicrafts for sale. I bought a five-pack of some cute little greeting cards with matching envelopes.
The entire time we worked side-by-side with the ladies, they sang and danced. From what I read from another blog, this isn’t their usual workday routine. When the Fathom volunteers come to help (for a couple of days every other week), though, they are just so happy to have us there!
Bruce and I were happy to be there to help these entrepreneurial women, and we were thankful we had the opportunity to do one last Impact Travel activity before the ship set sail for home.
The following are scenes from the neighborhood around RePapel: