Type “Chocal” into the search box above, and a list of several blog posts will appear that I have written about Chocal, the women’s cooperative chocolate factory and cacao plantation in the Dominican Republic (the DR). In all, Bruce and I participated in Fathom’s Impact Travel program at Chocal seven times; three visits during our January 1st Fathom Adonia cruise, twice on our March 12 cruise, and twice on our final visit to the DR, during the week of April 9, 2017.
Those earlier blog posts included information about how Chocal was established (although I didn’t mention how the factory replaced what was once a nightclub hangout for drug dealers and other criminals). I wrote about the benefits Chocal has provided the thirty women and 130 families of the Altamira community. The chocolate-making process was also described, from bean to bar, including photos I shot of the cacao processing machinery. Our volunteer contributions were also detailed including the impact our work groups made on Chocal’s production.
Since then, the cumulative impact has grown as more and more Fathom passengers volunteered at Chocal. As of April 15 of this year (the one year anniversary of Fathom Adonia’s first sailing), 4,419 passengers have visited Chocal and sorted 5,186 pounds of cacao nibs, resulting in 152,994 finished chocolate products. In addition, since the neighboring cacao plantation nursery was added to the Impact Travel program, 29,920 cacao seeds were planted. Of those, roughly 75% will grow to become cacao trees. In three years, those trees will be each produce about 20 pods ready to harvest each May and November for the next 30-40 years. Each of those pods will contain about 50 seeds—enough to produce a 2-ounce bar of chocolate to be sold in the Dominican Republic. (In addition, Chocal exports cacao nibs to Canada and the U.S.A., earning $2 per pound.)
Bruce and I made a personal impact at Chocal as well, bringing a box of ear plugs to the factory workers (when we visited in March) with promises to send more if the workers cared enough about preserving their hearing to use the ear plugs regularly.
I also brought memories with me during that second visit, giving each of the workers photo notecards I had made of the photos I had taken of them last January. Their reactions and expressed gratitude was gratifying and left a lasting warmth in our hearts.
Our final Fathom Adonia voyage was during the week before Easter (a very important holiday in the DR), and we were there the day before and day of Good Friday. As a result, many of the women of Chocal were home cooking and preparing for the holiday, so we didn’t get to see some of them again as we had hoped. Still, our two visits were special, memorable, and heart-warming.
We arrived once again with an armful of photo notecards—this time, made with photos of our Chocal friends holding the cards I had given them in March; and, we brought another box of ear plugs to keep them well-stocked for a while.
Our bus driver, Diosiris Dipre (“Dipre”) was the same one we had last March, and he appeared very happy to see us again! His sincere gratitude for such a simple gesture of giving a photograph reminded me of how random acts of kindness can make such a positive impact.
Gumarcindo, the nursery’s manager, also welcomed us warmly once again and laughed heartily when I gave him another photo card. I wish I would have remembered to take another picture of him holding his card, because the photo on the card showed him holding the card I gave him in March that had the picture I took of him in January on it! We got so busy working at the nursery, I completely forgot. It’s another one of those photos that got away…
Our IDDI facilitator on the bus with us this time was Juan, an IDDI rep we had seen during previous visits, but hadn’t gotten to know, since he was on the other bus in the past. The guy is a hoot, and we had a lot of laughs with him during both of our days going to Chocal. His grandmother works at the factory, and even though she didn’t speak any English, we managed to form a bond through smiles and gestures.
Steven, another IDDI facilitator was there once again, and he seemed happy to see us and start another round of teasing, picking up from where we left off in March.
As we saw the women, one-by-one, throughout our time at the factory, each one recognized us and greeted us with hugs. It was nice to be remembered once again!
At one point, though, I had a brief moment of sadness when we passed through the office to work in the packaging area, and Bruce noticed the box of ear plugs we had given them in March. The box was sitting on top of a high pony wall in the exact same place where it had been left after I demonstrated to the president how to use the ear plugs. When Bruce saw what appeared to be the unused box and told me about it, he had a disappointed look on his face. He said, “I don’t think they’ve touched those ear plugs since you gave them the box.” My heart sank, and I wondered whether I should even give them the second box I had brought. Not giving it a second thought, I doubled back to check the box for myself. Just as I opened it and noticed it only two-thirds full, Milagros (the factory manager) walked in and exclaimed, “Si! Si!!” as she pointed to her ears and smiled. The workers were in fact using the ear plugs, and they were very grateful to receive more! That made my day.
After our work session officially ended and the others shopped in the gift shop, Bruce and I stayed behind to give one last push of sorting beans. As a final parting “gift”, Steven took me back into the factory where we had molded chocolates, gave me a plastic glove, and told me to hold out my hand. In it landed a palm-ful of warm chocolate from the bowl we had worked from to create our little chocolate works of “art”. I will never forget how gooood that chocolate tasted as I licked every bit up! I savored it slowly knowing it could very well be the last visit we ever make to Chocal.
Coming up next: OUR REUNION WITH THE WOMEN OF REPAPEL