• Robert Hebert

This is Not Building Trades Concrete WORK, it’s Voluntourism!

ATTENTION all Architects, Contractors, Tradesmen, and Builders. Professional or Weekend Warriors. This is Not Building Trades Concrete WORK, it’s Voluntourism!

Once you read this I hope you will be inspired to try fathom Impact +Travel. It is an opportunity to have a great vacation and USE your skills to give back and truly Impact the lives of grateful people. To learn more about voluntourism in the Dominican Republic, <click here>.

We had been watching the new cruise line, fathom (with a small “f'”) for some time. We were on the second trip to Cuba – for the Architecture, and the third cruise to the Dominican Republic – because we were already on the ship. As fate would have it Cuba was “nice” but our week in Amber Cove was THE BEST EVER experience. To learn more about our adventures in Cuba <click here>.

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Architects Rob and Lynn Outside the Martinez Residence (open window to Lynn’s right. Note the water containers to Rob’s left.


fathom is voluntourism: a new category of travel that provides the opportunity to build community with like-minded travelers, become immersed in another culture, and work alongside its people to create enduring social impact. fathom calls this #traveldeep. We call it #travellikeanarchitect. It is about a full bodied Cruise Vacation Experience where you Travel for the Experience. To help others. To learn. To make a difference in the lives of others. And, to have a great time. We did ALL of this.

concrete floor family

The Martinez Family – Ready to WORK! L-R: Juan, Melanea D, Oscairy Arisvell , Veronica, Reynaldo, Yanibel, and Yomailin


To facilitate our voluntourism experience we were allowed to choose Impact Activities from the following areas: Education, Environmental, and Economic Development. As Architects, providing basic, quality, shelter is part of our soul. Hence, our “first pick” activity, from the Environmental Area, was Concrete Work; Concrete Floors in Community Homes. fathom has partnered with IDDI to provide concrete floors in existing homes. IDDI has a waiting list of about 100 families wanting a floor. The Martinez family that our small group of 20 was assigned to was near the top of the list as they had an infant, Oscairy (5 months old at the time we were there – the same age as our Grandson!). <Click Here> to learn more about The Martinez household. Mr. Martinez proudly told me he Designed and Built his home over 20 years ago. While the house is his, the land is not – he is one of MANY squatters living in the flood plain of the Rio San Marcos. The home is constructed of concrete block – bare inside and out. With a tin roof – exposed inside and out. The floor is dirt and gravel. When it rains, or the river floods, it becomes mud. It is a poor environment for a baby or toddler to learn to crawl and walk.


Our task was to mix, transport, pour, level, finish, and color the floor of this 700 square foot 4-room home. And to do it the Dominican way. NOT the American OPCMIA way. Prior to our arrival the house had been “prepped”. This involved removing all the furniture and belongings. Removing the front door. And removing a window on the front of the house that was used to pass materials thru.

When we arrived there was a fair size pile of gravel / aggregate on the ground. Another pile of sand. And, there was a pallet of cement carefully placed off the ground. There were two large plastic containers that held water – and BUCKETS…. ….Lots and LOTS of buckets. The tanks were being filled with a hose that had been running for days. Water pressure is almost non-existent, just a trickle and toilets must be “bucket flushed”.


It is NO easy task creating the Concrete Mix. In addition to the fathom voluntourists, friends and neighbors were there to help. One neighbor held the infant while Veronica helped – and MAN that gal worked with the best of them. Juan and his two sons, Yomailin and Reynaldo, each had taken off from their jobs to work on this project. And a good friend was there to “finish” and add the color coat.

Step 1: Prepare the base: Shovel gravel into buckets. Using a bucket brigade, carry buckets into the home. Dump and rake “level”. It was not until we were done that I realized the concrete floor started ALMOST level with the Concrete Block course, but was 4″ lower at the opposite end of the room…….. There is NO reinforcing!

gravel-floor

Gravel Spread as Base for New Concrete Floor


Step 2: Create the Concrete Mix: Three wheelbarrows of gravel / aggregate. Make a ring, about 60″ diameter in the street with the aggregate. Add Three wheelbarrows of sand. Add two 80# bags of cement. Fold all the dry ingredients into a volcano shape. Add buckets and buckets of water – yes, somebody was counting them…. ….to make a “pool”. Water was conveyed using the bucket brigade from the storage tanks, to the street. Using 4-6 shovels, voluntourists spread the mix around, being careful not to let it run out from the edges. Repeat until it is all mixed together, and “looks right”. There is NO slump test here. This first batch was made rather stiff. My guesstimate is we made 2,500psi concrete.

Step 3: Make the Formwork: Using a bucket brigade pass buckets to the “skilled” Dominican workers in the house. They start by laying the concrete 6″+/- wide by 3″ deep around the perimeter of the most remote room. They trowel it level, and then shake dry concrete on it to “stiffen” it. On a wide room they also place a row in the center of the room. As we discover later, this is what they will use for a screed rail.

Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until all rooms are complete.

Step 4: Time to get busy: The youngest and strongest work in the street, mixing as fast as they can. Those of us that show a bit of age are assigned to the full bucket brigade. We convey the full, heavy, buckets of concrete from the street, into the house. The elderly and young children work the empty bucket brigade, quickly sending buckets back to the crew in the street.

Step 5: Screed: 2-3 local men were using a battered piece of wood to screed / level the concrete. The screed was placed on the now VERY stiff concrete at the edges (and center) of the room. The concrete was worked from the rear of the house to the front. It was not anywhere near as SMOOTH as the finish you would find in America. The concrete was also quite dry and stiff.

Step 6: Float: Our group had only THREE floats – which was a problem, as we were able to deliver far more concrete than they were able to finish. Walk boards were laid in an “L” shape allowing the two far walls of the room to be finished. First, a wood bull float was used to compress the concrete, lower the aggregate, and bring cement to the surface. Then a metal hand float was used to smooth the surface. The technique involved using a sponge to sprinkle water on the concrete, then hand shaking cement, and trowel-mixing a smooth finish. This step was done for the first 24″ along the far walls of the room. ie: not the entire room was done – yet.

Step 7: Finish Coat: A green powder was hand shaken over the smooth concrete. This also would receive occasional sprinkles of water. There appeared to be an “art” to troweling that created a swirl of light to dark green. When complete it looks like smooth colored tile.

Step 6 and Step 7 would alternate in 24″ sections, slowly backing out of each room. NO expansion or control joints were formed. Further there was no joint between the concrete block wall and the concrete floor.

concrete work team

Martinez Residence – May 2016 fathom “Dominican” Concrete Work Voluntourist! To the far right rear, in the blue shirt, is fathom Impact Guide Gilad.


As each room was completed it took less and less people to carry the concrete. The crowd outside the house, watched, grew, and photos ensured. While we/the fathom helpers completed our work, the locals finishing had a considerable job ahead of them. I DO wonder how they ever finished.


After photos and hugs we walked a few blocks thru the neighborhood to a Church. Here we were treated to one of MANY delicious, Local Dominican, meals. We shared our meal with other travelers in our group, as well as locals, and the family. Amid the exhaustion we KNEW we had made a difference that day. Twenty people sharing five hours of labor provided this family of Seven a clean, liveable, environment. It would have taken the father and his two sons. over FOUR days of their time to do what we did in ONE morning.

It WAS hard work. It was HOT. It was DIRTY. My recommendation: bring a pair of old shoes and plan on leaving them. Do NOT let this scare you from tackling this Impact Activity. We had young kids that were able to find a task and help. fathom provided PLENTY of cold water, gloves, and eye protection. We were all well instructed. They not only allowed, but insisted on frequent rest/water breaks. You won’t regret the feeling of accomplishment this Impact Activity provides. Thru the magic of Facebook we have remained connected to the Martinez Family. We see their nice, new, CLEAN, green floor in many photos……

We boarded the nice, new, Air Conditioned van at 8am. We left El Javillar by 2pm. This left time for an afternoon nap by the pool (either on the ship OR in Amber Cove). By sunset (and DO NOT miss the sunsets) we were ready for the Craze Band, Big Games, and Dance Lessons. fathom has figured out how to #traveldeep and #travellikeanarchitect. This is Not Your Grandmother’s Cruise – And that’s OK – It is Better. much MUCH BETTER!

amber cove sunset

Enjoy the SUNSET – One like this EVERY NIGHT!!


We made many new friends on our trip. Please visit their blogs to learn more about fathom and Voluntourisim.

Vicki Winters, The Vicki Winters Show

Noel Morata, Travel Photo Discovery

David and Veronica James, The Gypsy Nesters

Dave and Deb, The Planet D

Debbie Mitchell, Deborah Mitchell Media Associates

Alexa Williams Meisler , 52 Perfect Days

Oksana and Max St. John, Drink Tea and Travel

Michelle Hermann, She’s Going Places

Joy Shean, A Jaunt With Joy

Liz Cleland, Western New Yorker

Caryn Panzant, The Midlife Guru

Scott Shetler, The Quirky Travel Guy

Marie ‘B’ Haase, MariaAbroad

#voluntourism #impactactivities #fathomtravel #concretework #concretefloors

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