In July 2012, while I was living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, studying Spanish I was lucky enough to meet Tabea Thomaschke, founder of Dominino (site is in German).

Founder of Dominino, Tabea with one of the children from the school.
Founder of Dominino, Tabea with one of the children from the school.

As a child, Tabea had always been interested in making a difference in children’s lives and had a love for the Dominican Republic as she used to travel there with her family. As she grew older, she began working toward her goal of helping children in the poorest areas of the D.R. She started a not for profit organization called Dominino. She went into the area of San Luis, known to be one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of Santo Domingo and she started a school for the children of the community. At first, it started out very small, with only a few children, but as her funding grew, she was able to support having more children take part. The school provides education in Spanish and some German for young children, provides a meal each day and lots of love and attention from the staff. These are three very basic things to most of us in North America, but education, food and love are three things that are severely lacking in this poorest of the poor community. The school now has close to 20 students and is making a huge difference in their lives by giving them the education which will hopefully encourage them to get out of the cycle of poverty. All of this, started by a young woman in her 20’s.

I visited Dominino while I was in Santo Domingo and wish that I could have gone back again! I knew that we were heading to a poor community, but I didn’t really know how dangerous it was until I learned that taxis refused to enter the community at all … ever. Simply because it is dangerous. We got off a local guagua (bus), then climbed on moto conchos (3 of us on each) and were driven about 5-10 minutes away to the community of San Luis.

It is here where we were greeted by some very shy, but bright children who were very excited to see Tabea again, and the couple of others of us who came to visit. Some of the children were incredibly shy. Often, in fact, not even speaking to staff at the school for quite some time until they begin to feel comfortable. These children often come from abusive homes, their health is neglected, their education is non-existent and they don’t really know what it is like to be loved and cared for.

We sat with the children, singing songs and playing games. And then, they were served fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal to fill their empty tummies before heading outside to play a couple of active games in a closed in area. All the while, I was there capturing photographs of the children in their environment. Some of them were excited to be photographed and couldn’t wait to see their photos on the back of the camera. Others were cautious, but smiled shyly. Yet, a couple of children simply were scared of the white lady with the big camera. Yes, I did make a couple of children cry. To which, of course, I then stopped photographing them. I had no interest in traumatizing the children!


The most heart warming part for me in the end was that two of the children who were scared of me and my camera at first, came around and actually wanted their photos taken by the end of the few hours we were there.

One of the little girls who originally was scared of my camera.
One of the little girls who originally was scared of my camera.

Dominino is a not for profit organization that does good work for underprivileged children. They accept donations and you have the opportunity to be able to sponsor a child for a year to ensure that they continue getting education, food and love. The Dominino Facebook page is in German, but Tabea has excellent working knowledge in both English and Spanish.

Below is a collection of photos from my visit to Dominino. I can wholeheartedly say, my favourite photos from my seven weeks in the Dominican this past summer.

Do bananas make you smile?

During my last week of classes in Santo Domingo, I met the founder of a project called Dominino. Dominino is a school in one of the poorest areas of the city, an area called San Luis. I had the opportunity to visit the school with the founder, and have much to write about. First, I would like to share a story from the trip to get to San Luis.

The five of us walked from our school, Casa Goethe, to the super market to get food to take to the children at the school for their afternoon meal. Tabea bought cereal, yogurt and bananas for the 20 small children. We then took a guagua (local bus) to the outskirts of town. The bus ride was incredibly hot, the bus was full with constantly changing people and you had to take special care to make sure all of your valuables were safe at all times, from other passengers on the bus, vendors who came on the bus to sell things and from vendors reaching in through the open windows of the bus to sell things.

We drove through areas of the city that I had not yet seen and you could see the difference in the people, the buildings and the vendors on the streets. The streets were packed with people, many children, many of them alone. There were vendors lining the streets selling fresh fruit, candy, clothing, meat and there were piles of garbage everywhere. It just simply had a dangerous vibe and was not an area I would want to be walking in. As dangerous as the buses are, I was glad to be sitting on one, rather than roaming the surrounding streets.

About 35-45 minutes in to the bus ride, a young boy selling candy got on the bus. He put a candy in each of our laps and expected us to pay. He looked sad, hot and tired, but was doing his best to sell these small candies. When each of us said ‘no gracias’ and returned the candies to him, you could tell he was one again disappointed that he had not sold anything.

As the young boy, about 10 years old, turned around to leave the bus, Tabea asked one of the other girls to take one of the bananas we had bought and give it to the boy. When Christine handed the boy the banana, his eyes lit up immediately and a huge, beautiful child-like smile stretched across his face. He was surprised, and for a moment could do nothing other than smile. He politely murmured ‘gracias’ as he started to open the fresh peel to eagerly reach the fruit inside.

The boy left the bus to return to the streets to blend in to the mass of people and vendors. A moment later, I heard a child’s voice saying ‘Gracias! Gracias rubia!’ I looked out the window behind me and there he was with a beaming smile and a half eaten banana. No words could describe how I felt at that moment knowing that my new friend had just made such an impact on this child.

Tabea went on to explain that she doesn’t like to give the children money because often they are obligated to give the money for their day’s work to their fathers, or uncles. However, if you are able to give a child food, they can eat it and it is something that is only for them. They do not have to give this to their family or their boss. It also may be the only food, or the only nutritious food that they eat that day.

I learned later that many of these street vendors are illegal immigrants from Haiti. They do not have their birth certificates or other documentation that would allow them to work legally in the Dominican Republic, so often the children are sent to work as vendors on the streets. Sometimes the parents also work, or sometimes they ‘run’ the business and wait for the children to bring home the money.

I can’t explain any better than to say that my heart swelled. These are the experiences, the opportunities and the feelings that you never get to have when you travel to a resort for vacation. You never get to see what real local life is like.

For me, this experience was a life lesson. Although I knew that giving money to the children of the streets was not a good idea and would perpetuate the idea that tourists are all rich, I never understood the deeper reason. Now I understand more of the way of life, and having experienced the glowing smile and appreciation of this young boy, it is a lesson I will never forget.

¿Puede un guineo que te hacen sonreír?

La semana pasada en Santo Domingo, yo conoci la fundadora de una escuela que se llama Dominino. La escuela esta situada en la comunidad de San Luis. Este llugar es muy pobren en el area de Santo Domingo. Hay muchos delitos y delincuentes alli. Tuve la oportunidad de visitar la escuela con la fundadora, Tabea.

Esta es la historia del principio del viaje.

Un groupo de otras chicas y yo caminamos desde la escuela, Casa Goethe, al super Mercado para comprar comida para los estudiantes de la escuela. Nosotras compramos cereal, yogurt y guineos para los ninos. Entonces, tomamos una guagua por mas de una hora para llegar a la comunidad, San Luis. La guagua estuvo muy llena e hizo mucho calor. Esto fue necisario para asegurar nuestras cosas por los vendadores en el calle y los otras personas en la guagua.

Nosotros pasamos por areas muy pobren dentro de la ciudad y tu puedes mirar la diferencia entre las personas, los edificios y los vendodores en las calles. Las calles estan muy sucias y hay muchas personas y ninos. Los ninos estan a menudo solos.

Los vendadores estan vendiendo una variedad de cosas, como carne, bombones, fruitas y mas. Esta area parece muy peligroso.

Despues 35 o 45 minutos en la guagua, un joven, como de 10 anos, llego a la guagua para vender bombones. Cuando todas las personas dijeron, ‘no, gracias’, el estuvo muy triste y se vio cansado.

La fundadora de Dominino, le dio un guineo y el sonreio mucho. Ella explico que si tu dars dineros, el esta obligato a dar a sus padres, familia o jefe, pero, si tu dars un guineo, eso es suelamente para el.

Despues el salio de la guagua, el dijo ‘Gracias, gracias rubia’, desde la calle.

No hay palabras para explicar como me senti en este momento sabiendo que mi nueva amiga hizo un grand diferencia en el dia para el. Posiblamente esa fue su comida de todo el dia para el.

Para mi, esta experiencia es una leccion de viva. Yo se que dar dineros a ninos no es muy bueno, pero no entiendo las razones o el porque. Cuando yo vi la sonrisa de este joven, yo entiendo que la comida y la amor es muy precioso para los ninos, mas que dineros. No voy olivar esta experiencia en toda mi vida.