Updated September 21, 2017
If you're looking to try something a little different on your next cruise, consider a voluntourism excursion -- cruise tours designed to make a difference, socially or economically, in the places they visit. If you're cruising to the Dominican Republic with Princess, Holland America or P&O, you might get a chance to visit RePapel, a small co-op of women who make a big difference by recycling paper in the village of El Javillar. The factory is a short bus ride from Amber Cove, where your cruise ship will dock. The excursion falls under parent-company Carnival Corp.'s Fathom Impact Travel, which focuses on voluntourism activities for all of Carnival's brands.
What It Is
RePapel is a small company that employs fewer than 20 women in Puerto Plata. These women gather used paper from area businesses and residents, then repurpose it into other things, like stationery, jewelry and cards. Passengers will visit the paper factory to help the women in their production of paper and to learn about the process -- and the people. A key part of the experience is interaction with the women, who are learning English. The excursion lasts about four hours.
Passengers learn about RePapel and what they'll be doing during the excursion during the ride from the port to the paper factory.
The factory is probably not what you'd imagine: It's a house transformed into a workspace, and most of the activity takes place under what could best be described as a carport. Paper recycling is a very manual process here, and the equipment used is mostly repurposed household appliances, like blenders for creating pulp and washing machines for cleaning paper.
You'll have plenty of interaction with the women of RePapel, who speak English when they can and also communicate with the help of translators. You'll have a chance to hear their stories, learn about their families and discover the impact working with RePapel has made on their lives. It can be surprisingly emotional to hear how the job has made it possible for them to provide for their families -- often as the sole breadwinner -- without having to travel far away to bigger cities like Santo Domingo. This means they can be there for their children and grandchildren during breaks and before and after work.
Passengers divide into groups, then rotate through the stations required for the papermaking process. They'll tackle tasks like washing and molding paper, mixing natural dyes and rolling paper to eliminate moisture. There's also a paper sorting and shredding station, where you sit with employees and separate paper by color, tear it by hand and look to remove hazardous objects like staples and paper clips. It might be the best station because you have a chance to talk -- and joke -- with the women in a more relaxed manner. As you rotate around the stations, you'll probably dance and sing along with the women, who truly love their jobs -- it's infectious and feels genuine.
Another piece of this excursion will have passengers threading beads and making jewelry alongside local artists.
Worth a Try?
This is a great option for anyone who is looking for a more sedentary voluntourism activity, as you'll mostly be standing or sitting while you help create paper. It's surprisingly fun, too: The opportunity to interact one-on-one and share belly laughs with the women, is really special, even if you don't speak the same language.
Things to Note
Once complete, the paper is used to create business cards, invitations and greeting cards as well as jewelry. RePapel creates and sells items to businesses as well as individuals.
You can buy paper from the factory before you leave. You also can buy items like jewelry and hand-crafted candleholders. Bring U.S. dollars or Dominican currency -- both are accepted, and cash is king.
Depending on which cruise line you visit with, your tour might include soft drinks and snacks.