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Redirected: Delivering Water Filters to Local Homes With Fathom

Sarah Schlichter
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Fathom passengers making water filters

Ever wondered what it would be like to volunteer on vacation? Cruise Critic recently found out by traveling to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, and sampling one of the "impact activities" organized by Fathom, a new cruise line dedicated to voluntourism. The excursion we tried was the second part of what will be a two-day experience during a Fathom cruise. On the first day, cruisers will work in a factory to help construct water filters made of clay, sawdust and liquid silver; on the second day, they'll deliver the filters directly into the homes of local residents.

What It Is

Fathom has partnered with a nonprofit organization called Wine to Water, which so far has supplied about 10,000 Dominicans with clean drinking water. During this half-day activity, Fathom passengers meet up with members of the Wine to Water team to learn how to use clay water filters, which they then help distribute to the villagers.

The project is a vital one because about 15 percent of Dominicans -- mostly in rural areas – don't have access to potable water within a kilometer of their homes. For locals, using a filter to purify their existing water supply is more economical than continually having to purchase five-gallon water drums. For Fathom passengers, distributing the filters offers a chance to meet and interact with the Dominican people and to see the direct impact of their work in the factory the day before.

volunteers coach locals on how to use and maintain the filters

Our Experience

Our morning began with a bumpy uphill bus ride to a small village in the mountains, where we were welcomed into the luxurious home of one of the village's few wealthy residents. Four members of the Wine to Water team gave us a comprehensive demonstration of how to clean the filter before installing it -- a process involving bleach, buckets, water and a brush that can only be used to scrub the membrane of the filter (to avoid cross-contamination). Then we plunged our arms into the buckets to give the process a try.

This was preparation for the arrival of about a dozen villagers, mostly women, who had come to purchase and claim their filters. Each filter has a value of 2,000 pesos (about $44 USD), but thanks to subsidies from Fathom, villagers pay only 300 pesos (less than $7). Some of us wondered why the filters weren't given away for free. According to Wine to Water, the nominal cost encourages buyers to value and take care of their filters.

The Wine to Water team gave the villagers a Spanish-language version of their earlier demonstration as we held up large posters illustrating how to clean the filters as well as the dangers of water-borne illness. (The latter poster featured one distressed cartoon child who was alternately vomiting, crying and suffering in a hospital bed.)

Then the locals got their own chance to practice cleaning and setting up the filters while we attempted to help them with questions; this didn't always go smoothly, partly due to language barriers and partly because we'd only just learned the process ourselves. But it was still fun to try to connect with the villagers by means of a fumbling combination of English and Spanish.

Once the locals felt comfortable, we set off in several groups (either on foot or by bus, depending on the distance we were traveling) to deliver the filters to their homes. Each group was accompanied by a bilingual member of the Wine to Water team to help with translation.

Walking the streets of the village and stepping into local homes was the most interesting part of the day. One woman eagerly welcomed us in, invited us to sit down and explained that she had made the colorful sea glass art on the wall. It felt meaningful to see how the locals lived and know that the filter they'd just purchased would make a difference in their lives. The 12 filters we delivered will provide potable water for 60 people for at least five years.

The excursion ended with a homemade lunch of rice, avocado salad and sancocho, a rich Dominican soup made with a medley of meats and root vegetables. (A vegetarian version was also available.)

Group of volunteers and locals delivering filter to a nearby home

Worth a Try?

Cruisers who value meeting local people and seeing how they live will enjoy this activity.

Unfortunately, it was difficult to quantify the impact our presence had on the lives of the villagers. The Wine to Water team did all the heavy lifting; they led the demonstrations and collected money for the filters, and there was little real reason for the Fathom passengers to be there. (At times we even felt that we were in the way.)

That said, as a follow-up to a day of making filters in a factory -- work where we would make a difference -- this activity would be a satisfying way to see the direct impact of our efforts.

Things to Note

The filter distribution experience we tried was still in pilot form, so it will likely change a bit by the time it's offered on Fathom sailings. As an impact activity, this excursion will be included in the price of your cruise.

Updated October 10, 2019

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