MONTVILLE, NJ – “Voluntourism” is a new way to spend one’s vacation, and Montville Kiwanis President Michael Johnson is no stranger to the concept. He and his family recently spent time on their cruise in the Caribbean cleaning a beach on St. Maarten that had been hard-hit by Hurricane Irma, and working alongside communities in that area to improve living conditions as part of their vacation.

Johnson had gone on one of the cruises to benefit others last year with some friends from his alma mater, Marist College, and immediately became hooked.

Johnson told TAPinto Montville, “On my recent trip in January, 2018, which was called ‘The Cruise for the Caribbean,’ the goal was to help the communities devastated by Hurricanes Maria and Irma.”

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Johnson took the cruise on Fathom, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruiselines, and sister brand Princess Cruises. Fathom began in 2015 with cruises to Cuba designed to foster a connection with the Cuban people and in 2016 the line had its first cruise to the Dominican Republic on which “hundreds of travelers” had an “immediate impact on the people of [that country],” according to the Fathom website.  Six additional sister cruise lines now offer travelers the opportunity to participate in social impact experiences in the DR, the website states.

The cruise has a mixed itinerary of seminars, “work time,” and free time.

“We spent two days at sea, and there were sessions during the cruise hosted by Fathom’s social impact guides to teach the customs and culture of the community we were going to be helping, plus team-building exercises,” Johnson, a former Montville Board of Education member, said. “There were three days to relax at sea and on Antigua, and then three stops that were service days: St. Maarten, St. Thomas and the Dominican Republic.”

The beach that Johnson’s group cleaned is a turtle-nesting beach, according to the Curacao Chronicle, and about 150 passengers spent hours assisting the Nature Foundation cleaning debris, plastic, fishing tackle and glass. Three tons of trash were removed, the Chronicle reported. Johnson said the cleanup had economic ramifications as well.

“In addition to being a nesting site, large portions of the beach are a popular tourist destination,” Johnson said. “It is now closer to re-opening, which will help to bring tourism business back into the community.”

On St. Thomas, the cruise travelers distributed donated goods to families in need, Johnson wrote on his blog,

“All the while, local youths danced and celebrated with live entertainment as a team of volunteer doctors and medical staff from New York offered free medical screenings and flu vaccinations, all under the coordination of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health,” Johnson wrote.

In Loma de la Bestia, Dominican Republic, the group laid cement floors for a family that had lost their home in the hurricane, Johnson said.

Johnson said he enjoyed his first trip so much that he was able to recruit his parents to come for the January trip that he took, and he said they’ve come to enjoy voluntourism as much as he does.

“It’s so different, and I’ve met so many people from all over the world,” he said. “It’s an engaging, immersive travel experience where you get involved with and work alongside the communities you’re visiting. It adds a whole other level to your trip. The people we were traveling with were educators, travel agents…everyone had one thing in common – an interest in doing something for the common good.

“It’s a special experience and I’m a die-hard fan. I cannot wait to sail with Fathom again.”

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