In our family, we subscribe to the belief that experience is the best teacher. However, it has been a struggle to find appropriate and meaningful opportunities to engage our brood of three children ages 4, 7 and 9 in activities that cultivate their inner global citizen. We’ve tried bake sales and lemonade stands to fundraise for causes, but those quickly devolved into excuses to make and eat sweet treats with neighborhood buddies. We donated food to community pantries and created Valentine’s cards for veterans, and while these experiences were an improvement over fundraising to give cash donations, the kids still weren’t getting the connection between the social need, their actions and the impact they can have on the world.
Just as I was thinking perhaps we needed to wait until they are older to teach social responsibility, I had the good fortune of being introduced to Pack for a Purpose (PfaP) through my work at Be Girl. Luckily, we also had a family vacation planned in February to one of their partner destinations in the Dominican Republic.
We were booked at the Westin Puntacana Resort, which supports two community projects operated by the Puntacana Foundation — a medical clinic and a technical school. Working from the Needs lists on the PfaP website for both the clinic and the school, the kids helped me select the supplies they wanted to bring and, of course, after seeing ‘menstrual supplies’ on the list, I couldn’t help but squeeze in a few Be Girl period panties. I was excited to see how talking about the needs created moments of connection and relevancy for each of my kids.
My 4-year-old was fascinated by the fact that “imaginary boo-boos” might not warrant band-aids because they had to be reserved exclusively for real boo-boos at the medical clinic. He also LOVED pre-sharpening the pencils to be donated to the school!
My 7-year-old was interested in discussing why only manual pencil sharpeners and solar-powered calculators were best suited for donation at both locations.
My 9-year-old wanted to make sure the backpacks earmarked for the school project were stylish because, according to her, we wouldn’t want to give “lame school bags” that might make a student feel embarrassed. (I particularly loved seeing her focused on the “sameness” between herself and the recipients of our donations — she wanted them to have what she had in terms of quality so they could feel proud when using them.)
We reached out to Pack for a Purpose before our trip to coordinate a site visit where we could personally deliver the supplies. This is not a requirement, as most travelers leave the supplies with the hotel or tour company, but I was hoping to create a more meaningful giving experience.
On the fourth day of our stay, we were met in the resort lobby by Margarita, a cheerful and patient representative from the Puntacana Foundation, who would take us to visit the medical clinic. Scheduling and logistical constraints didn’t allow for a visit to the school, but Margarita appreciatively accepted that portion of the donation for later delivery.
The ride from the resort to Veron, the town where the clinic was located, was an experience in and of itself — punctuated by excited observations made by the kids. The main street teemed with colors and people going about their Monday morning. We drove past a yellow, two-story school with uniformed children changing classes and fruit stands bursting with local produce. There was a new police station as well as a large wooden frame of what will be a new pediatric medical facility opening in July, which Margarita told us were projects of the Puntacana Foundation. For all the vibrancy, you could also see the scrappiness and hard work needed to survive in the cobbled-together homes, well-worn clothes and creative transportation modes (among many overburdened scooters, my middle son was excited to point out a skinny, saddled horse tied up and awaiting its owner).
As we arrived at our destination, Margarita explained that the Veron Rural Health Clinic was the only facility to offer free healthcare to locals in the province. In addition to several consultation and treatment rooms, there was an ultrasound machine, pharmacy and a vaccination clinic for the 150 patients seen on average per day. After completing our tour and walking through an open air waiting room filled with patients, we met with the two onsite physicians who kindly educated us on the most pressing local medical challenges. The doctors also took some time to engage the kids in a discussion comparing and contrasting what they saw at the clinic with their experiences at the pediatrician’s office at home. As you can see from the picture, the kids felt right at home at the clinic!
For our family, Pack for a Purpose offered a “just right” opportunity to share with our children the bigger picture of what it means to be part of the global community. Our thanks to Pack for a Purpose and the Westin for partnering together to make it incredibly easy for us to use our extra luggage space in a meaningful way. We also wanted to thank the Puntacana Foundation for going to extra mile — beyond all the great work they are already doing — to give us an up-close and personal look at the impact our donation had.
Stephanie Rapp-LeGrand oversees the EmpowerBank Program and is the resident optimist for Be Girl, a social enterprise dedicated to empowering women and girls through access to appropriate and innovative menstrual hygiene management products. She is passionate about gender equality, women’s health issues, environmental sustainability and raising compassionate children who are ready to “be the change they wish to see in the world.”