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Damajagua volunteer Joe Kennedy re-elected to Congress

U.S. Rep. Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, a former Peace Corps volunteer who worked on sustainable tourism for Damajagua Falls, has been re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kennedy, a Democrat who represents Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District, coasted to a second term on Nov. 4 with no opposition.

Joe Kennedy

Joe Kennedy waves to crowds at the Boston Pride Parade on June 14, 2014. Photo: Joe Kennedy for Congress Facebook page

As a Peace Corps volunteer from 2004-2006, Kennedy used his business acumen and his connections to prevent the stunning Damajagua Falls attraction (27 Charcos) from being monopolized by private tour companies, which were paying local guides only a few dollars per trip.

He worked side by side with community members in the Damajagua Falls Guides Association to win a government concession that secured local control over the site and ensured fair pay for the guides, among other improvements.

Kennedy recounted his experience as part of an October 2014 article in America magazine:

“We convinced the government to put the park under local control, allowing the community to set wages and craft safety precautions. We raised money and built a small business to run the park operations with more local autonomy,” he wrote. “We set up a community reinvestment fund so that a portion of every entrance fee went into the local neighborhood—to build a bridge, buy a school bus, bring clean water to the community.”

Kennedy, who is the grandson of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, came to work in Puerto Plata after graduating in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University. After leaving he completed a law degree at Harvard Law School in 2009. He was an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County in Massachusetts when he ran for his first term in 2012.

Joe Kennedy III

Congressman Joe Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. Photo: Congressman Joe Kennedy III Facebook page

Tubagua Plantation Eco Lodge

Retired teacher organizes “Helping Hand Vacations” for youth

There’s something about the Dominican Republic that’s hooked Judy Warrington.

In April, Warrington returned from her 18th trip to the impoverished Caribbean nation, which shares its island landmass with Haiti.

Dominican Republic may be a great spot for a vacation, but that hasn’t been its draw for Warrington.

“Despite the challenges of the rains, roads, lack of infrastructure, lack of hydro, running water, access to medical care, high costs, devaluing peso, they [the people there] still have a joy about them, a spirit about them, and a love of life. A happiness that really extends the warmest welcome to visitors,” she said glowingly.

“We teach our children not to speak to strangers. In the Dominican Republic, it’s the opposite.”

Warrington has always been interested in the service of others, which is why she founded Power Trips, a volunteer-run organization devoted to Dominican Republic’s development. She left her home in Oakville on Good Friday and stayed in the Dominican Republic for more than a month to lead two 14-day trips. The first one consisted of 80 people – 63 of which were students, and the rest, mostly teachers. The second trip attracted 30 participants from Strathscona-Tweedsmuir School in Calgary and Collingwood School in Vancouver.

It was the way the students preferred to spend their March Break.

“I considered coming on this project because I wanted to experience a challenge and make a change. I also felt like it was time to do something useful during my March Break instead of being a tourist in some country,” wrote student Andy Doyle in his assessment of the trip.

It’s a win-win situation.

When Warrington isn’t on the island, she is sending as much as she can in the way of school supplies and medical equipment. With the help of local schools, she’s sent two 40-foot containers. Nothing is too big (or too small)- Warrington will even accept teacher’s desks.

Warrington was introduced to international service opportunities at Appleby College, a member school of the Round Square. Round Square is an organization that leads students on the path to self discovery in ways that extend beyond the walls of the classroom. Warrington went on to lead students on trips to Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Costa Rica.

In 2004, she created Power Trips as a legal entity. She says she chose Dominican Republic because of its closeness, and “the fact that it has as much poverty in some areas as I know there is in Africa.”

“What differentiates us from many other organizations is our interest in empowerment. We don’t want to create dependency on us,” she said.

“We do service that is smart, sensible, and sensible to the local community and its needs, that is going to lead to self-sustainability.”

Warrington is partnered with the Rotary Club of Oakville, as well as local organizations.

“They act as our guides, friends, direct line.”

During her last visit, the teams worked on four extreme school makeovers, including a women’s training centre, which entailed purchasing material locally, renovations, installing security bars and roofs, fixing “banyos” (bathrooms), making blackboards, shelving, painting, decorating, and hiring people to pour concrete floors. Sounds tiring, yes, but for Warrington, a retired teacher, it’s a typical day in the life.

With classes still running in March in the Dominican Republic, she and her volunteers ran tutorials for the children, and created safe children’s play areas – mud playgrounds was all they had.

She also partnered with two leading childcare health providers – The Dominican Institute for Integral Development (IDDI) and The National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI) – to run health clinics. Dominicans were given free medicine, and thousands of toothbrushes and toothpaste were handed out. There was HIV testing, and workshops on the environment, garbage (a problem there) and sexual disease. An eye clinic was set up to identify children with clinical needs, and eyeglasses were distributed.

Dominicans were also given thousands of used soccer balls and uniforms.

Warrington was a teacher for 35 years, mostly in Halton and Peel. She’s taught at elementary school, secondary school, and a commercial re-training program at Sheridan College.

She’s been married for 43 years, and says she’s always been comfortable and privileged.

Her husband, an accountant with his own business, is also involved in her pursuits. He participated in the August project. Her daughter-in-law teaches at the University of Calgary and is hoping to develop a professional education program in the Dominican Republic, in conjunction with the University of Calgary.

Her projects have been a success with students, who accompany her on the trips. They visited a cigar factory, hospital, seniors’ centre, deaf children’s school, clinic and Mirabal Museum, and walked with a refreshed outlook on life.

Warrington no longer stays in hotels with her volunteers. The students weren’t comfortable in the kind of accommodation hotels provide.

“It didn’t fit,” said Warrington. Instead, they stayed at a retreat centre with basic and rustic lodgings. The views, however, were incredible – it’s located on the top of a mountain between Puerto Plata and Sosua.

Local cooks prepared Dominican cuisine during the trip.

“We are very careful about what we eat,” said Warrington.

Perhaps the only complaint the students really had in their evaluations was there weren’t enough vegetables.

Besides that, they walked away with a refreshed outlook on life.

“After this trip, I have a much greater appreciation for how much a small action can affect someone so much. I will also be much more willing to live in the moment and “go with the flow.” I have a feeling that these lessons will stay with me forever,” wrote Elizabeth Watt from St. Clement’s School.

Visit Judy’s PowerTripsInc. web site

Visit the Tubagua retreat centre web site

From The Oakville Beaver, Ontario, Canada
By Joanna Phillips
May 14, 2008

Adventure travel in the Dominican Republic

Two hours into the mountains, Maxima Aventura is a wilderness dude ranch for adventure travelers and extreme sports enthusiasts

By Ron Añejo

There’s something wrong with the picture when you find yourself in the tropics kicking pine cones across the lawn. There’s something wrong with the picture when your feet are on solid rock, but the view over your shoulder is 200 feet straight down. And there’s something wrong with the picture when a pleasant bus ride through tobacco fields and sugar cane plantations suddenly turns into a rum-soaked, wet T-shirt contest.

Call it extreme adventure mixed with extreme partying in an extremely unusual part of the Caribbean. Call it extreme brainwork at the end of the day when you have to accept that it all actually happened, and here you are.

Of course, not all of it is for everybody.

Rappeling in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic: the Jimenoa River gorges down over 200-foot vertical dropsMany people who come to the Dominican Republic for a Caribbean holiday would prefer to just sit around their all-inclusive resort, couch potatoes cum beach potatoes, waiting for the next buffet to open, knocking back their thimbles of beer at the open bar, grateful for the advice that it’s safer to stay on the resort property, thrilled with the city coach tour that goes past the rich people’s houses and the poor people’s veggie market.

Not everybody gets off on the idea that, being on the second largest island in the Caribbean, you can hire a van and driver and head off into the mountains, and just a couple of hours away from the sun drenched beaches, discover a place like Jarabacoa (Hara-ba-cóa), where the fertile hills and valleys and see-your-breath-at-night temperatures make it feel like spring time in New England.

And of course, not everybody wants to party the way we did that day. Bird watchers and nature nuts also love to discover Jarabacoa, where strawberries and snow peas grow, where you can take mountain hikes and drink fresh fruit juices. It’s just that the group I happened to be with can pretty much be described as The Party of Puerto Plata. These are the people who in their daily course of work are called upon to create the fun that the tourists take home as lasting memories. They take them sailing, they take them diving, they run local bars; all the while having to maintain the safety and security standards required by the big corporations that send the tourists to town and who don’t want to get sued over anybody getting into trouble over having too much fun. So, for the people I went to Jarabacoa with, their workaday life is like spurring the hell out of a party horse while constantly hauling back on the reins.

Travel tip: too many pitstops and you'll miss dinnerUnderstandable then, with a weekend opportunity to let go of them there reins and blow off some adrenaline, meditation and tai-chi were not high up in the order of priorities.

Our destination was Rancho Baiguate (Buy guát-eh) in Jarabacoa. We were going to try out a part of their program that they call Maxima Aventura. Maximum Adventure.  We, the people who do the beach and ocean thing for the tourists, were going to visit the people who do the mountain and wilderness thing.

Rancho Baiguate is like a dude ranch for adventure travel. Some thirty simple but very comfortable rooms are housed in small buildings set among manicured gardens. The country-style dining room serves hearty, country-style Dominican food. There is a sitting around area, a bar and a gift shop selling cheap t-shirts alongside hand rolled Dominican cigars. Across the lawn and over a walking bridge they have an Olympic size pool. The air is fresh and cool. With nighttime temperatures around forty degrees Farenheit, you sleep comfortably, cuddled up under a thick blanket.  Here, the sound of the river to lulls you to sleep, instead of the hum of an air conditioner.

***

True to the Caribbean concept of time, we spent two hours at our designated meeting place, Pat’s Rum Runners Bar, where everybody knocked back cuba libres and Presidente beers while waiting for everybody else to show Jenny was often the brunt of our caring attentionsup. We finally left, with hoots and hollers and a full cooler and large cups very unlike the thimbles you get in the hotels, and it was only a matter of time, with La Vida Loca blaring from the boombox, that somebody would get the type of urge that could start the type of wet t-shirt contest that only subsides when all the rum splattered on the ceiling of the van finishes dripping down on your head. Accounting for the pit stops, by the time we got to Santiago – half way – we were already four hours late for the nice dinner that Rancho Baiguate had prepared for us.

Burger King in Santiago was not prepared for our fifth pit stop. When all twelve of us fell through the front door and somebody jumped on a The Burger King staff just ducked their heads and let the storm blow throughtable and blew a blues number on his harmonica while we took pictures of ourselves behind the counter with the Burger King staff, we had to wonder whether the  personnel’s absolutely cool and collected reaction was due to advanced assault training, or pure shock.

Travel tip: visitors are well advised to arrive at Rancho Baiguate by sundown, and not wake up the manager at one-thirty in the morning and register at the front desk smelling like a rum factory; there are better ways to elicit a warm welcome. This poor guy, his lack of assault training notwithstanding, became much more congenial as soon as we realized, after his very patient explanation made the next morning through gritted teeth, that if we were going to go cliff climbing perhaps we shouldn’t be drinking the leftover Presidentes from the cooler in the back of the van, before breakfast. Empathy set in after we got to thinking about the things we say to – and about – those beach and ocean tourists who, on a rage of 151-proof rum, propose to go sailing and diving or otherwise take on Mother Nature. More than one corpse has been pulled out of the sea over this. Thus, everybody made the switch from extreme party mode to a more reasoned, extreme adventure mode.

On the wall of the sitting area at Rancho Baiguate there are maps and posters of all the things you can do there. Wilderness horseback riding. Trail hiking, in the vicinity of the ranch and even up Pico Duarte, which at 10,000 feet is the highest mountain in the Caribbean. They have all-terrain four wheel vehicles to blast around the countryside. You can do white water rafting and go river tubing. There is cave exploring and cliff climbing. There is hang gliding, and a picture that announces the imminent arrival of hot air balloons. Rancho Baiguate caters to both overnighters and to day trippers from the beach resorts, from amateurs like us to extreme adventure enthusiasts who can pack as much into their sojourn as their stamina will allow.

You don’t have to think extreme to enjoy Jarabacoa. Lots of people go up on one-day bus tours to visit the region. The drive over the mountains into the fertile Cibao valley, through the bustling city of Santiago and then up into the pine forests behind La Vega, makes for a pleasant ride, a veritable eyeful of things to see, to photograph, to contemplate. Many such tours make a stop at the Jimenoa (Him‘n’Noah) Falls, where you park and walk up a series of stairs and over wooden hanging bridges until you get to some picturesque, scenic pools fed by a waterfall that gorges out over a 200-foot precipice. You find yourself standing in the bottom of a huge gorge, where an electrical generating plant some three stories high was taken out by Hurricane George. And as you stand there, there’s something wrong with the picture of how important you think you are when you realize that not long ago, the water, blasting with unbelievable force, had completely filled up this gorge and engulfed that entire generating plant, leaving huge pieces of it strewn down the river like so many cast iron and prefab concrete matchsticks.

It’s a little more dramatic, though, when you stand directly below that straight-down, 200-foot rock cliff and think about the fact that you arrived at those lovely freshwater pools by way of the cliff itself. That is, by hanging on a rope running through a clip in a waist harness and literally walking down that 90-degree incline. It’s extreme, to look up, and contemplate that you just did that.

Okay, we all swim, dive, and we’re good at bending elbows. But not of us are particularly fit. Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough for us to take the bus, saunter up suspension bridges and splash around in pretty pools.

That morning at Rancho Baiguate, after realizing we shouldn’t be drinking beer for breakfast, we ate eggs and toast and fruit and dawned wetsuits and jumped on to the back of a safari jeep that took us high up the mountain. We all got a little nervous when the jeep almost tipped as the driver hooked a left on to a steep dirt trail and parked.  Then we walked, for about twenty minutes, down a narrow path that challenged our rubber legs, to where we came out of the woods into an incredible basin fed by yet another 200-foot waterfall, of crystal clear water falling out of the sky and rushing around massive boulders that once upon a time had come crashing down from where they had been part of the cliffs that towered above us. Splat.

So there we  were, the beach and ocean guys, without a clue as to what awaited us. At this point Kelvin, our guide, and his two assistants, who we planned to give a rough time to but later became very dependent upon, started fixing ropes to a tree and throwing them over a 40-foot, 45-degree rock face. Kelvin showed us how we should try to keep our feet above our shoulders as we fed the line through our harness. All was well and good as each of us made our first attempt at walking backwards over a cliff while hanging on to a rope, this one being a perfect beginners experience that gave us confidence to tackle the next one, which we all knew would be harder, but not how much harder.

Despite the cool nights, daytime is warm and sunny in Jarabacoa and this was a perfect weather day. As we hiked over rocks and swam along the river, the water was refreshingly cool. We were surrounded by nature, nothing was too strenuous, everything felt good.

Until I found myself hooked up again, looking over the next cliff.

My feet were planted firmly on the edge of the precipice. My hands gripped the soft rope that hung over the cliff. Kelvin was beside me, and I was ready. And then, ass out over the abyss, I made the mistake of looking down. My eyes bulged, my sphincter shrank and my heart went into serious conflict with my mind. All I could see, directly below me, were very large expanses of rock and the very tiny people who had gone down before me, now lying back and watching the show. There was definitely something wrong with the picture, but they were all down there and several more were waiting their turn. There was nowhere for me to go, but down.

Eyes back to the rock, feet in front of me, let the rope out slowly, down I go. And then the rock face juts back in and now I’m in mid air, hanging, my hands around the rope being all that’s keeping me from plummeting to the rocks below. Don’t look down. Slowly, easy does it. And then my feet are on the ground. Easy did it! And I sit back, rest on the rocks, water gushing around me, watching the others confront their fear, feeling the exhuberation on their faces when they too hit horizontal ground.

Finally everybody is safely down, waiting for Kelvin, our guide, to follow. With all eyes  looking upward he makes his appearance, hanging face down over the abyss, waving hello. And then, in what took most of us an arduous two minutes to negotiate, Kelvin simply strode down the cliff like it was a walk in the park, and in about three seconds he was standing among us, smiling. Sheeiiit.

We had just impressed ourselves with our courage, and were recovering from our fear, of negotiating a 75-foot verticle drop. Phew! At that point it would have been nice to swim through a few more channels, maybe do a couple more jumps into calm pools of fresh water, before taking on the next cliff. But after this last extreme attack on our brainwaves we discovered that our next challenge lay only 100 meters away. Within no time the smooth rocks we were walking on came to a precipitous end, and, far, far below we could see the park-like setting of pretty pools and snack bar and wooden suspension bridges that bring everybody else to Jimenoa Falls. And down there we could see the people, very small indeed, that we would be among, hopefully, after one more, wrong-picture experience, this one three times higher than the last.

More intense than actually doing it is the thinking about it beforehand. The science behind rappelling is quite basic. What they don’t tell you is that the guy down below who is holding your rope can actually stop you by pulling it taut, and that he controls your descent simply by adjusting the tension on the rope. You can’t fall, but tell your brain this when your only foothold is a smooth, straight up-and-down surface and your ass is 200 feet above the grass and your arms, much more adept at elbow bending, are the only thing between you and the grass. It’s hard to act cool upon arrival. But we all did our very best.

There was something very different about the picture, of twelve party animals out for a blast, returning to Rancho Baiguate, sobered by the extremeness of nature and by the challenge to our respective heads. We got back to the ranch, truly subdued, truly rewarded, respectful of what the what the guys who do the mountain and wilderness stuff do, adrenaline spent, ready to take on the next wave of beach and ocean tourists.

Read…. Dominican Republic Base Camp Network

Yale says DR is world’s 33rd greenest country

Santo Domingo. – A recent Yale University study ranked Dominican Republic 33rd among the greenest countries, Environment minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal said Thursday.

“To be among the world’s top 35 greenest countries is a recognition of the efforts by nongovernment and government organizations, academies and the Dominican people to benefit the environment and natural resources” Fernandez said.

He recognized however that it also represents “a challenge because from now on it’s necessary to improve that position.”

Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) evaluated carbon and sulphur emissions, water purity and conservation practices.

Fernandez, taking part in the closing of the 8th technical meeting of the Biological Corridor of the Caribbean, said the project seeks to integrate Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica, among others islands in a common effort to draft joint policies to defend the biodiversity, protect nature and develop the natural resources’ common potentialities.

In the meetings during three days in the Santo Domingo Technological Institute  (INTEC), the technical delegations proposed a Joint Operation Plan among the corridor’s current members.

From http://www.dominicantoday.com