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For a women's collective, cruise ship visits a 'Wow!'

Excited about cruise ships coming to Puerto Plata - entrepreneur Noemi Crisostomo with cacao nibs and seeds at the Chocal chocolate plant (Photo: Anne Kalosh)
For Dominican Republic entrepreneur Noemi Crisostomo, having travelers visit Puerto Plata on cruise ships is 'Wow! Like the dawn of a new day,' she said with a big smile.

'We'll sell more. If we sell more, we can hire more women.'

Crisostomo is the vp and a co-founder of Chocal, an artisanal organic chocolate producer in the rural town of Altamira.

With no job opportunities and not wanting to leave their homes for the city to seek work, a group of women formed Chocal in 2007 to come up with some type of local business. Since the area's main agricultural product is cacao, they landed on the idea of making chocolate.

'We wanted to create something where we live that can grow,' Crisostomo told Seatrade Cruise News during an interview in Spanish.

A small loan from the US Agency for International Development bought the materials and, following a visit from the president of the Dominican Republic, Chocal got a government loan to secure production space in the ground floor of a simple building with a corrugated iron roof.

The collective buys cacao from local farmers. Members clean and ferment the seeds, roast them, separate the nibs and, in cold rooms, mix the chocolate and pour it into lattices that shape the bars. After the chocolates cool, they're wrapped in foil and paper labels with a heart ('Corazon Dominicano'). Chocal currently sells to two of the country's four major supermarket chains.

'To grow, we need a bigger market. A bigger market will create more jobs,' Crisostomo said.

Carnival Corp. & plc's social impact brand, Fathom, is helping arrange for Chocal chocolates to be sold at Puerto Plata's new cruise port, Amber Cove.

'We'll make sure we have space,' pledged José Negron, director-port development, for Carnival Corp. & plc's Global Port and Destination Development Group.

For visitors to the Chocal plant, chocolates were going for a dollar a bar, with a boxed assortment of orange, coffee chips, cacao chips and 70% pure chocolate priced at $5.

Most revenues are going to repay loans, with only a small stipend for the workers now. The collective has 22 members. They work 8 to 5, five days a week.

Moreover, cruisers with Fathom can pitch in to help Chocal. They'll plant and maintain cacao seedlings that will be transplanted to local farms. They'll prepare organic fertilizer made from table scraps to improve the cacao trees and work in the chocolate production.

'We provide human capital,' Fathom president Tara Russell explained, adding that a huge problem for social enterprises is their cash-intensive nature. 'We can help them attain scale,' she said.

Plus, other jobs will be created in the community—for example, meals need to be prepared for the Fathom volunteer workers.

'The women here are older and can't get jobs elsewhere. They have a place here to work so they can stay in their homes with their children. Here, they feel useful and productive,' said Crisostomo, 38, whose children are 22, 19 and 15.

She related that if the oldest Chocal member, in her 80s, didn't have this job, she'd be sitting at home. The work keeps her moving and feeling youthful.

'They are a true source of inspiration,' Russell said. 'Most don't know how to read or write. Some are now studying on Saturdays.'

Crisostomo herself didn't have the opportunity to get an education. Now she's studying industrial psychology.