It is hard to believe that we’ve crossed off five days of a week on the Fathom impact cruise to the Dominican Republic. Today was the third day of impact activities in country and tomorrow will be the last, with this ship leaving port—with or without the passengers at 2:00 tomorrow.
Today, Gail, my wife, and I joined a group doing English mentoring in the community rather than in a school as we did yesterday. This turned out to be even more fun—and, I hope, more impactful.
A bus took us out to a community called Monterico, a village on the outskirts of Puerto Plata, the primary city here in the Northern part of the country. The ride was relatively short as compared with yesterday’s trip, giving us more opportunity to actually spend with people in the community.
Our time there was split into three sections. First, at a local community center we were led through a 20-minute introductory session, meeting with representatives from the homes we were to visit. We divided into small groups, each with one or two locals. From there, we walked a few blocks to the homes of the people we were to visit.
Mayelin was our host and she led us to her home where there were about eight people ready to learn English. Most had participated in a session the day before. Continuity was established with notebooks in which we could write notes not only to the student but more importantly to the next English mentor.
Gail, who speaks only a few words of Spanish, taught Mayelin herself and Miguelina, a neighbor. For Gail, this brought back pleasant memories of her 25-year teaching career. She enjoyed creating interactions between the girls, allowing them to teach each other—something she views as being more effective than teaching them herself. She felt that both girls learned something during our hour with them.
Miguelina did not have a notebook, suggesting that she had not been part of the program from the beginning—yesterday. Given the basic level of English we were doing, that represented no problem. It wasn’t clear to us, however, if she would be added formally to the program.
While Gail was teaching Mayelin and Miguelina, I worked with Miguelina’s grandmother Vicenta. She was an impressive student. While she didn’t pick up the language as quickly as the kids, she had a wonderful attention span—she made me jealous. Without having trained her adult attention span to expect new stimulation every few seconds by having a life dominated by competing screens, she was able to focus intently for the entire hour we spent together.
Today, we all focused on teaching the alphabet. Vicenta was able to master about half of the letters during our time together. She won’t likely progress at the same rate as the teenagers because of the difficulty of language learning at her—well, our—age. The system with the notebooks seems to anticipate and allow for those disparities, meaning that she should get the patient help she needs.
As I reflect on this program after a single exposure to it, it does some to have great potential. My biggest remaining concern is that meaningful English skills, that is those that will lead to meaningfully improved educational opportunities will require much more than the basic program contained in the 10-lesson program book. A few basic phrases, no matter how fully mastered, will not allow someone to qualify for employment in a public-facing role in the tourist industry—the best sorts of jobs in the community, especially now that Carnival has developed Amber Cove as a destination for its ships across all of its cruise lines.