Carmel O’Farrell, known to many as Summer Camp’s – Camp Counselor Carmel, has been a Positive Legacy supporter since she found out about our organization through Dominican Holidaze in 2014. We asked Carmel to share her Positive Legacy experiences with us. Here is Carmel’s Positive Legacy story for you to enjoy!
My most vivid memory from Dominican Holidaze 2014 isn’t the luxurious all-inclusive resort or the outrageous DJ sets by the pool. Instead, I’m easily taken to a place called Domingo Maiz, a community about 30 minutes away from the beach in the town of Veron. There are no windows on many houses in this community, just openings where the thick Caribbean air flows freely. I distinctly remember walking down the road with a dozen or so fellow festival goers, picking up trash while the local children mimicked our actions as if it were a game. With my broken Spanish I tried to crack a joke but their large eyes just stared back at me in amusement.
The Dominican Republic is one of the most visited islands in the Caribbean with year round golf courses and all-inclusive resorts as its main attractions. While tourism has fueled impressive economic growth over the past decade, rural areas seem unaffected and poverty still continues to grow. It is estimated that 4 million Dominicans currently live in poverty with more than a third of the population living on less than $1.25 a day. Half of the country does not have access to clean water and diseases like Malaria and E.Coli continue to plague communities throughout the Dominican.
Those most affected by this economic disparity are Dominican children. According to UNISCEF, about half of the youth under 18 years old live in poverty with limited access to clean water, food, and adequate housing. Only 30% of children finish primary school and more than half of the schools do not provide clean water or even toilets for children to use.
Though picking up trash seemed trivial at the time, it was an icebreaker for the community to engage with us. Once the work was over and Domingo Maiz was beautified, we made our way to the neighborhood’s water treatment area which had recently been implemented by The Punta Cana Ecological Foundation with the help of organizations like Positive Legacy. Here we enjoyed a delicious Dominican meal along with some traditional Dominican music. We ended our visit by painting a mural on the cinder block wall that lined the community.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the lack of clean water or adequate infrastructure that left a lasting impression on me. Instead it was the smile on the faces of the Dominican children as they sang songs, danced, and helped us understand their community. Despite the situation they were born into, they were just kids being kids. There is a spiritual element to connecting with those who are different than yourself, especially children. Sometimes it takes seeing it first hand to understand that things like clean water are human rights issues. The excursion taught me about empathy, cultural sensitivity, and how they each relate to sustainability.
My experiences in the community of Domingo Maiz brought me back to Positive Legacy’s Dominican Holidaze excursion in 2015. This experience was very different than the one I had in 2014, yet equally inspiring. This time around Positive Legacy took us to the ocean where we got a chance to snorkel near coral that was being harvested to restore a local damaged reef. To my excitement, we were once again joined by the children of Domingo Maiz, many of whom I recognized from the year before.
Positive Legacy strives to support effective change, which is why they’ve chosen to work closely with the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation since 2012. While their main focus is the clean water project, the foundation also tries to address other environmental issues that affect the Dominican Republic. From composting to beekeeping, each project has a focus on sustainability. They also provide a place where Dominicans can learn about their environment and pass that knowledge on to future generations.
Needless to say, Positive Legacy brought a layer of depth to an already incredible adventure. I have worked with many organizations over the years but few have made the type of impact Positive Legacy has made. They inform and inspire our community to address real issues that face vulnerable populations of all over the Caribbean. I truly believe we have an obligation to open our eyes wider to living conditions around the world and Positive Legacy enables us to make a difference where we can.