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a person holding a kite

In BOP faces we talk to local legends: the people of Punta Cana that make this place so special. In this edition: Harolis Susana. This 18-year-old is the president of Club Interact Punta Cana Bavaro. With this club she initiates humanitarian projects for poor communities in Punta Cana. BOP spoke to this ambitious young woman about her hopes and dreams about better living conditions in parts of Punta Cana.

She just came out of school. Her 5-year-old nephew does not leave her out of his sight. He climbs on top her. He fidgets with her hair, puts his arms on her shoulders, and gives her no space to sit down. He sticks out his tongue when Harolis Susana starts talking. She laughs softly. “This is my cute nephew.”

Today she is not wearing her school uniform. Instead, Rotary badges are pinned on a blue t-shirt for this interview.

Helping communities in Punta Cana

Although Punta Cana is one of the most popular vacation destinations for tourists who come to the Dominican Republic, it does not mean that every part of Punta Cana is well off. Some people live in poor neighborhoods. These are the communities that Harolis Susana helps. Together with 43 other kids between the age of 12 and 18 she sets up projects to support these people. The name of their group: Club Interact Punta Cana Bavaro that was founded on the 2nd of November 2017. It is part of the big Rotary organization that aims to help people in need all over the world.

The first three Tuesdays of every month the club holds a meeting to discuss options to help communities. Harolis who is the president, created a family day on the 4th of February of this year, for parents to spend quality time with their children.

“I noticed that there were so many children in a poor community who did not get to spend time with their hard-working parents. That is why we organized a family day. A day where parents could play with their children. They could play volleyball and basketball. We also had face painting and animation. To find parents and children, we knocked on doors and invited them personally. In the end, 30 children and 50 parents came on the family day. To fund these projects, we sell food, bracelets and ask people to help us.”

Personal motivation

Helping kids is really important for Harolis. She recalls the time when she was younger, and her mom could not afford to buy notebooks for school for her. Walking to school took her 1 hour because there was no money for transportation. “I know what it is like to be in that situation. I was born in Villa Altagracia and moved with my mom, 3 brothers, and 1 sister to Punta Cana when I was 6 years old, 12 years ago. In that time there were not a lot of yellow big buses from the hotels (transportation for hotel staff) that you could ask for a ride to get to school. If you did not have money you just walked. It is still not easy for kids from some communities. That is why, when I see kids in the morning that do not have transportation I help them to get rides to school. My situation is better now. I am grateful for the things that we have.”

“Working with Club Interact Bavaro Punta Cana gives me so much satisfaction. It makes me value the small things in life. Sometimes I come home, and I cry after an event, because of the people who were so happy with what we did that day. It is also hard, because you see the poor living conditions of people too.” But Harolis continues to hold onto her dream which is to help communities, but also work in aviation.

Aerospace Engineer

“When I was younger I used to sit in front of our house and see the planes fly over from and to Punta Cana airport. It fascinated me. I love it and still do. In July I am hoping to finish high school with high grades, because I am going to apply for the study Aerospace Engineer in Santo Domingo in June. It is hard to get in. I have to do all kinds of tests. Building airplanes is something I would love to do. I actually have never flown in an airplane. Hopefully I will get to experience it this year, because the Rotary Club Punta Cana Bavaro invited me to go to participate in the RYLA Northa America Conference in Washington D.C. But I need to arrange my visa first!” Harolis explains.

She came a long way from walking to school and ending up being the president of Club Interact Bavaro Punta Cana. It was when Harolis was on vacation in Santiago and she met a friend of her father she got in touch with the organization. The friend, who is the President of Rotary Monumental asked her to start Club Interact Bavaro Punta Cana. Because the position of President can only be held for a year, Harolis will pass it on to someone else. But she is already planning something new.

“I am doing lots of homework to start a group for adolescents. This group will have members starting from the age of 18.”

Getting communities in Punta Cana involved

“It is really important to get communities in Punta Cana involved,” Harolis says. For example, we were in a neighborhood where they had a very serious waste problem. We came and cleaned the streets and surroundings with the people from the community. We also separated the waste for recycling. In this way people feel proud of their area again and it is less likely that they will continue throwing trash on the street. Another important factor is healthcare, we drop off medicine at the clinic in Veron, so people can be treated for free.”

Favorite spot in Punta Cana & next event

“Our next event is a mothers’ day event. On the 26th of May we are organizing a Zumba event for mothers. They will also have the chance to win prizes. They can win a massage and other great stuff.”

“Punta Cana is my hometown. I have been living here most of my life. My favorite spot is Playa Los Corales. I love that beach. It is so relaxing, and you can do watersports. Exploring different places is something I like. I have been to so many beautiful spots in the Dominican Republic!”

But are studying and helping communities in Punta Cana the only things in her life?

Laughing: “I like watching crime series, and I love to dance. Ok, salsa is a bit more difficult, but merengue I can handle!”

Want to get involved in helping communities in Punta Cana? Get in touch with Club Interact Punta Cana on FaceBook or on Instagram.

Can’t get enough of the personal stories of people in Punta Cana? Read about Nikolas and his cooking studio, Danijela on constructing underwater nurseries, and Tiano Solana about his art on BOP faces.