The Dominican Republic is acclaimed for its breathtaking beaches and warm waters - ripe for relaxation and sea-based adventures. But there's a whole lot more to this Caribbean nation besides sun, sand and sea. The Dominican Republic is also a hotspot for uplifting cultural adventures. For example, the tasty tourist experience offered by Chocal Chocolate Factory. We were delighted to hear from this female-owned, female-operated collective in response to our 'tell us your story’ initiative.
Located in hilly Palmar Grande, Chocal has been empowering women and boosting the local economy for thirteen years. Like we said, the Dominican Republic really does create chocolate that changes lives.
While the Dominican Republic has been a chocolate exporter for years, its cocoa industry has only recently become a source of income for women in rural communities.
Back in 2007, thirty women from Palmar Grande decided to take their future into their own hands. To that end, they set up a women’s cooperative to cultivate, process, package and sell chocolate. With that vision - and with support from non-profit organisation Fundelosa - the Chocal Chocolate Factory was born.
Since its founding, the cooperative has empowered women by creating jobs and offering opportunities to learn new skills. It also enables young women to continue their education. At the time of writing twenty-two women work in the cooperative, with the wider community also benefiting from the income it generates.
Easily accessed from the resorts of Puerto Plata, Chocal offers visitors a unique experience. A typical trip kicks-off with a tour of the factory. Here visitors will meet the women and see how the cacao is processed and pressed into bars. In addition, there’s an all-important opportunity to taste chocolate and make your own bar.
Nature-lovers won’t want to miss trekking the plantation’s trails. Alongside serving up stunning landscapes, rambling through the cacao trees gives further insights into the full bean-to-bar process.
Forming strong relationships with tour operators is vital to the success of the cooperative. As Chocal’s representative told us, “our interaction with the tourism industry is very dynamic. The women have a great supportive relationship with tour operators.”
In its early days, the cooperative faced the challenge of a “lack of knowledge and understanding of leadership and how to run a cooperative." This was “due to the age of the women when they joined the cooperative.They were young and so it was understandable that they lacked the work experience and knowledge.”
However, thanks to the women’s resolve, these challenges were easily overcome. Above all, the members were driven by a “willingness to learn and their desire to excel into businesswomen and change their quality of life”.
Over the years, the cooperative has directly improved dozens of women’s lives. Take Noemi Crisostomo, for example. Noemi had to leave high school to help support her family. After joining the cooperative she was able to save towards her education. Fast forward a few years, and Noemi is an Industrial Psychologist.
Similarly Luis Parra, the son of one of Chocal’s founders, left education for financial reasons. But thanks to the cooperative’s on-going success, he’s been able to restart his studies. As a result, Luis is now a Bachelor of Business Administration.
Luis’s case reveals Chocal’s cross-generational impact. “The women have involved their children in the project – the money they receive from the cooperation motivates their children to continue their studies, as well as share household expenses.”
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Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her