Volunteers return to Dominican for 3rd year to continue with humanitarian efforts

A team of volunteers from the Canadian landscaping industry returned to the Dominican Republic in January for a third consecutive year to spearhead a number of humanitarian projects.

The group of 10—the core of whom are employees of the Nutri-Lawn company—returned to the community of San Pedro de Macoris where they had previously constructed a soccer field at the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos orphanage and planted and irrigated a two-acre fruit tree orchard.
Much of the work during their seven-day visit this year was done off site, including the planting of a community garden in the nearby village of Vasca.

Jordan Lavin, chief operating officer for the Mississauga, Ont.-based Nutri-Lawn company, said the Vasca project was an extension of one the Harbourside Rotary Club of Halifax had already initiated.
“They contacted us to see if we could help them when we went down,” he said.

The volunteers worked at the site for a couple of days, tilling the garden, installing an irrigation line and erecting an outer fence around the existing main fence the Rotary Club had built.

“The (outer) fence is made out of what they call a living fence post,” Lavin said. “They’re actually sticks that they’ve cut, and you put them in the ground, and they’ll actually sprout roots and grow as little, tiny trees, and then you wind barbed wire in between them.”

The barbed wire is used to keep animals away from the garden.

Among the fruit trees planted by the volunteers were avocado, mango, papaya, mandarin and two larger trees known as “good bread” trees.

“The good bread tree can feed a family of five every day,” Lavin said, explaining the melon-like fruit it produces is cut and boiled like a potato.

On the final day of the community garden project, the team furrowed rows and planted peppers, carrots and various other vegetables, and put a passion fruit vine in along the edge of the fence.
A couple of days were spent at the orphanage, completing a few random projects including topdressing the soccer field that was built two years ago. The field, which was expanded another 10,000 square feet last year, has seen a tremendous amount of use over the past couple of years and is still in good shape, Lavin said.

“It’s in pretty good shape as far as a sports field goes,” he said. “It would rival most municipal-type sports fields in Canada, for sure. They’ve actually done a pretty good job of keeping it up.”

With 225 children now making the orphanage their home, the field is getting plent of use.

“It’s been a good addition to the property.”

Returning to the orchard they had planted last year, the volunteers learned 30 of the approximately 100 fruit trees had been stolen during the past 12 months. The group purchased another 60 trees, replacing what was stolen and expanding the orchard.

“Their (the group of Brazilian nuns who conceived the project) attitude toward the trees being stolen was, ‘Well, obviously someone needed them more than us.’”

The new trees, which were already bearing fruit, were purchased from a local nursery at a cost of about $5 each.

During the group’s 2010 visit to the orphanage, a house to accommodate long-term volunteers had just been completed at the site, but no landscaping work had been done.

“We leveled the ground and laid sod, planted some trees and just sort of finished the house while we were there,” Lavin said.

Among those using the house are European students doing year-long volunteer work.

Lavin said plans are already in the making for another trip to the Dominican Republic next year. The group has been asked to build a concrete, tin-roofed house off-site which would be a two-bedroom residence with a kitchenette slated to be occupied by a needy family “trying to get their feet back on the ground.”

“We were pretty intrigued by that, and the guys on the trip seemed to think that would be a pretty good project in the sense that we could build a house from beginning to end—all in one week—and put a family in it,” Lavin said.

He expected the project would be similar to that of the Habitat For Humanity program.

Although the past three volunteer work projects in the San Pedro de Macoris area of the Dominican Republic have been co-ordinated by Nutri-Lawn and the volunteers have been mostly employees of the company, Lavin said anyone associated with the industry is welcome to join in.

“We want to continue with it and open it up to anyone in the industry who wants to join next year.”

Among the new faces making this year’s trip were two people associated with the irrigation industry in British Columbia. They had helped sponsor the trip last year, but were eager to actively take part this time around.

“They both said it was the best trip they’d ever been on, and said they couldn’t wait to go back again next year,” Lavin said.

Other members of the volunteer were Ryan Vincent, CEO Nutri-Lawn Inc.; Kalon Fairclough, Nutri-Lawn franchisee opportunities manager; Jess Montpellier, Nutri-Lawn Ottawa; Sue Kemp, Nutri-Lawn Whitby; Peter Bugden, Nutri-Lawn Halifax; Terry Ormrod, Canadian sales manager (residential/commercial irrigation), The Toro Company; Paulo Munegatto, Pronto Enterprises, Kamloops, B.C.; David Pfortmueller, University Sprinklers, Vancouver, B.C.; and Gary Pierce, Harbourside Rotary Club, Halifax, N.S.