A Different Kind of Family Vacation: “We Don’t Have to Buy Crap”

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Enzo Metsopoulos and new Dominican friends, 2011.
Enzo Metsopoulos and new Dominican friends, 2011.

Christine Grillo and her husband, Peter Metsopoulos, are planning a different kind of summer vacation for their family of five this year – the kind of busy, sight-seeing trip that won’t leave much time for sunbathing and souvenir shopping but will no doubt reward each member with take-home gifts. Through Outreach360, Metsopoulos, a teacher at the Bryn Mawr School, daughter Rita, 10, and a Bryn Mawr high school contingent will spend the second half of July volunteering to bolster education in the Dominican Republic, where over one third of the population lives on several dollars a day. Grillo, a writer at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, and sons Enzo, 12, and Luca, 7, will join the effort for one week’s time. In Kickstarter fashion, the family aims to raise a modest $1200 in trip support through their Outreach360 website page. Grillo’s excited about the high-concept endeavor for multiple reasons: not only will her family have a dramatic chance to pitch in, they’ll leave home expecting a gift-shop-free non-paradise, they’ll learn life lessons, and the memorable excursion won’t break the bank.

“Vacationing with kids is hard, because they want to buy stuff all the time, and they want more and greater thrills,” Grillo explains. “By doing a service project, we see a new part of the world, we’re immersed in Spanish, we don’t have to buy crap, we don’t have expectations of it being beautiful/relaxing/amazing, we get to the see the gritty parts of the country instead of the resorts. Instead of being a ‘get-away,’ it’s kind of hard and uncomfortable — really, really big spiders, many mosquitoes, really hot and humid, sobering windows onto humanity, and I’m sure Luca will not eat for the entire week we’re there. But I feel like going in with those low/sober expectations yields to much more spontaneous and authentic fun than vacation-oriented expectations.”

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In the Dominican Republic, English education arms young people considering college, professional careers, or work in the growing tourist industry with skills necessary to compete in the job market, according to the Outreach360 homepage.

In 2011, Peter and Enzo took part in the same program, again traveling with Bryn Mawr students. Outreach360 performs volunteer work in the Dominican Republic and in Nicaragua with high school groups, college groups, church groups, and families. The central mission: education. The Dominican children with whom volunteers work are extremely disadvantaged, some of them orphaned.

“Two years ago when Peter and Enzo went, they stayed at an orphanage and worked with the kids there, helping them to learn English, some math, and they traveled to different sites to do the same,” Grillo says. “Some of most affecting work days were in a batey near the border of Haiti — these are terrible, terrible labor camps where Haitians escape Haiti to become undocumented residents of the Dominican Republic, working for low wages and scrip on sugar plantations. Nearly gulag. (Don’t get me started on the horror that is the sugar cane industry — combine that with the horrible ethics of cocoa, and you’ve got me almost ready to swear off chocolate bars.) Think coal mines a hundred years ago.”

Grillo says the workers applied toothpaste to their wounds because they had no better alternative.

She also offers a savvy tip for traveling with smaller kids on a service mission: pack nonperishable snacks aplenty.

“I am going to bring a suitcase full of protein bars for Luca and for whatever Dominican kids might want them. Although I think they’re crazy, because I hear the rice and beans dishes are quite good.”

Visit their family page for the trip here.

all photos by Peter Metsopoulos
all photos by Peter Metsopoulos



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