BY KALISHA MENDONSA
Lacombe has a reputation as a volunteer central, where people come together to benefit their friends, families and neighbours – even in causes far outside the City limits.
Members of the Lacombe and area community recently returned from a trip through DR Experience to the North Coast of Dominican Republic (DR), where volunteers spent a week working to rebuild rural communities hit hard by heavy rainfall and a series of storms.
DR Experience officially started up two years ago out of the hearts of local citizens Shelley Cota and Marlene Pannenbecker, who had previously taken many trips to the DR and wanted to share their experiences with willing, open-minded volunteers.
This trip in particular was something of an extraordinary trip for DR Experience goers, due to the severity of damage caused by recent storms.
“I hope I never, ever have to go back and see that kind of flooding again,” said Cota. “We had an itinerary all worked out, but basically ended up throwing it out the window and starting fresh.”
The DR Experience trips are usually based in a community called Ascension, on the north coast of the island, just over an hour away from the tourist central city of Puerto Plata. Due to the high water levels from the rain, roads were washed out and the group only spent one day in Ascension.
Cota explained this trip was more of an emergency-based response experience, where volunteers mainly brought food, water and cleaning supplies to communities desperately in need.
“It was more difficult this trip because when we went there, there was devastation and loss. People had basically nothing before and now what they have is being flooded. People can’t go to school or to work. It puts a huge need on a community, especially kids who count on being fed at their schools. That means more kids needing programs and those types of things,” Cota said.
“Also, if you can’t clean your house after being flooded, you’re also at risk for getting sick with disease.”
Cota has experienced many trips to the DR but still said this most recent trip was an eye-opening situation.
She added that although many people were distraught and displaced, many communities were also working together to help each other and to provide for each other during the time of need.
She said the group witnessed communities coming together to support each other, where one village might cook for another that was washed out and underwater, as an example.
The group attended some medical clinics with an associated group, titled the Kerolle Initiative for Community Health, where DR Experience members handed out food, water and their Days for Girls menstruation kits. As well, DR Experience worked in a particularly poor village called Baraguana, where the need for clothing and medical care is significantly high.
Through all of these challenges, Cota said the DR Experience volunteers stood by ready and willing to jump in where needed.
“This was a different kind of stress than our regular trips, but people in our group responded so well to the situation. People were just interested in doing what they could to help. We skipped things we normally would do, like a beach day for example, because we understood in wasn’t important right now,” Cota said.
Attending the DR Experience trips usually consist of volunteering with a feeding program in Ascension, delivering Days for Girls Packages in rural communities, and engaging with local citizens and children to spend quality time together.
For the nearly 20 members who took part in the trip, it was surely an enlightening, heartening and valuable experience.
“One thing about coming on the DR Experience trips is that you have to be ready and willing to do just about anything – and that’s what we did,” Cota said.
“Our group is simply about people being willing to volunteer around the north coast of the Dominican Republic. It is a tourist area but 20 minutes from any large resorts are Haitian villages. Our group is about people being opened up to those experiences outside Puerto Plata and into the surrounding communities.”
The Haitian batey communities are known for being underdeveloped and impoverished due to strained relations throughout the DR among Haitian descendents and Dominican government members.