The Dominican Republic is a well known location for tourists and honeymooners, with sand so soft and white you’d think it was made of chalk. Though it is the second strongest economy in Central America and the Caribbean, beyond the swanky beach resorts lies a very different Dominican Republic, still beautiful, but full of need. Access to education and healthcare can be scarce and the island suffers often during hurricane season; this compilation of disadvantage increases the need for individuals to volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Volunteering in the Dominican Republic allows volunteers to experience the interesting mix of Latin flare, island attitude and African heritage.
Santiago was originally named, “Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros,” or Saint of the 30 Gentlemen, and is the second largest city in the Dominican Republic. It is known as the “heart city” because of its fertile surroundings and central location. It is a thriving metropolis surrounded by cocoa, tobacco, coffee, and rum production. Individuals who volunteer in Santiago can visit farms and museums and learn about the area’s various trades.
Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital city, was founded in 1496 and is filled with examples of baroque architecture and the city’s Colonial Zone is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is home to a lot of firsts for the Americas. The first castle, monastery, and cathedral were built in Santo Domingo, and it is the first European settlement. Volunteering in Santo Domingo provides volunteers with not only meaningful placements but also interesting sites to see and things to do. This southern coastal city even has a dance club inside an underground cave!
A handful of Dominican Republic volunteer programs are available in other cities and rural areas of the country.
Projects & Placements
Healthcare. Access to consistent health care is difficult to obtain throughout much of the country, especially in rural areas; therefore medical volunteering in the Dominican Republic has become a very popular area of placement, especially nursing and public health placements. Individuals who volunteer in the Dominican Republic in the medical field will be able to help with basic physical exams and shadow doctors through health-related placements. Many volunteer placements in the Dominican Republic are developed for pre-med students specifically, but there are health placements open to people outside of the field as well. It is also a great place to learn Spanish Medical Terminology, a priceless skill to bring back home.
Community Development and Clean Up. The Dominican Republic is one of the strongest economies in the region, but much of it isn’t developed sufficiently. Many individuals who volunteer in the Dominican Republic will focus on creating a better life for the people in underserved areas through projects that help provide safer cooking methods, reliable energy, or a clean water supply.
Construction. Many of construction projects in the Dominican Republic literally start from the ground up. Volunteers can work on building schools and homes from scratch, as well as help improve those that already exist. It is estimated that close to 700,000 families reside in inadequate living conditions in the Dominican Republic, especially in rural areas. Houses are built out a mud and manure mixture, wood, or even old oil drums, resulting in health issues, therefore construction projects are a particularly popular placements for volunteering in the Dominican Republic.
Recreation and Education. Very little funding goes towards public education in the Dominican Republic, so there is often gap in accessibility to proper education. Opportunities to teach in the Dominican Republic are offered throughout the country, from conducting Math or Art Lessons, to teaching basic English in schools, to coaching football and baseball (which happens to be the nation’s most popular sport). Sports Coaching placements in the Dominican Republic are popular placements independently of education as well, so share your skills in the classroom and on the field!
Nature and Sustainability. Environmental projects in the Dominican Republic working towards sustainability often focus on repairing areas affected by hurricanes, where volunteers can help in planting trees and working with community gardens to redevelop the resources of the area.
Accommodation & Visas
Many Dominican Republic volunteer programs will include a homestay option, where a portion of the families will not speak English. Living with a homestay will allow volunteers to learn Spanish, eat homemade Dominican food, and experience what the homelife of Dominicans is like.
Costs. The Dominican Republic is an affordable volunteer abroad option and has the best value in the Caribbean in terms of exchange rate and prices. Touristy trips and items around touristy areas are more expensive, but bargaining is very much a part of the culture, so don’t be afraid to haggle a little. While volunteering in the Dominican Republic, your placement organization will likely plan some excursions for you to participate in or help you to plan excursions yourself. It is always great for volunteers to venture on excursions together, and by searching for options along the beach or in areas outside of hotels, an excursion can be much cheaper.
Visas. Citizens of the United States, Canada, the U.K., and many other countries can enter the Dominican Republic with a Tourist Card. They cost $10 and can be purchased at the airport upon entry. Tourist Cards can also be purchased beforehand through a Dominican Republic Embassy, but it typically takes around two weeks to process. These cards last for 30 days, but extensions can be bought in increments.
Benefits & Challenges
Casta System. People of European heritage are still given precedence in the Dominican Republic. There is strong racism towards people of color, especially those of Haitian background. You may see evidence of this especially as while volunteering in the Dominican Republic since you will be working with those in highest need.
Fashionably Formal. Dominicans put a lot of value in clothing and overall appearance. Your outfit will be viewed and judged by their standards, which tends to be formal and portray an appearance of being painstakingly put together.
Three Cheers for Landing. Expect an airport arrival like no other. Once the plane has landed the passengers will break out into applause and cheers. Some will magically materialize a small container of holy water. It seems to be part in thanks for the safe journey, part religious, and part just their festive nature.
USD. The American Dollar is accepted in most touristy areas and prices will be listed in USD.