Chocal: Womens Chocolate Coop in the DR

. Posted by Sherrie Thai by .

Chocal photo by Sherrie Thai of Shaireproductions

It was a great pleasure to be able to volunteer and learn about one of my favorite things–Chocolate!!! While in the Dominican Republic, I hooked up with Chocal, a local womens cooperative of about 30 individuals, who create, manufacture and package their own chocolates straight from the cocao plant. The D.R has one of the best cocao beans in the world, but they mostly ship out the beans to Europe for manufacturing, leaving the local economy much to be desired.

With Chocal, there is economic empowerment and growth potential. They needed a bit of help with the production, so I volunteered for a few hours (through Fathom). It was fascinating to learn of their process, sorting the good beans from the bad, and wading through the camouflage of nibs vs. shells. The volunteers were very sweet, and I learned of their lives while sorting through the edible materials. With volunteering, the people that you meet are just as important as the service. I wish I could go back–the experience, though short, was very rewarding, as was the intoxicating aroma of roasted chocolate nibs. Yummy times! 🙂

Printing with Plants: Eco Printing Experiments

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Eco-printing artwork by Sherrie Thai of Shaireproductions

At the core, leaves and flowers are organic pieces of art, filled with wonderful tannins, natural colors that can dye papers when coaxed with the right conditions. I took a 2-day course at the SF Center for the Book with Dorothy Yuki, exploring different techniques to expose the beauty of the plants on paper.

Eco-printing process by Sherrie Thai of Shaireproductions
The setup and process

Eco-printing artwork by Sherrie Thai of Shaireproductions

Eco-printing artwork by Sherrie Thai of Shaireproductions

Eco-printing artwork by Sherrie Thai of Shaireproductions

I learned that Eco-printing is all about experimentation. I happily discovered that I could produce simple concoctions without much use of chemicals, where I could then reproduce the process in my tiny home kitchen. Initially, you can dampen the paper with a Water-Vinegar solution and apply that same solution to your plants. Different plants have differing level of tannins; Roses give a nice splash of color, and a reddish Japanese Maple leaves transfer a remarkable green tone when placed in a bath solution. Ultimately, if you go simple with just a water/vinegar solution throughout the process, you can get a subtle watercolor effect, perfect for layering artwork–illustrations, calligraphy or photography.

Eco-printing process by Sherrie Thai of Shaireproductions

There are tons of variables, like incorporating mordants, like alum or iron, to enhance the colors of the plants, but the main transfer mechanisms of plant to paper are physical contact and simmering the plants in a bath solution (like water/vinegar for a simple treatment, or using red onion for a deep orange hue). Here, the plants have been rolled into the paper along a cylinder and bound with a string. It then soaks up the water solution for about an hour, where all the magic happens.

Eco-printing artwork by Sherrie Thai of Shaireproductions

Revealing the artwork from a copper pipe (with rose petals still attached)

Eco-printing artwork by Sherrie Thai of Shaireproductions

When the artwork is finally unrolled, it’s like Christmas! The transfer result is widely variable, so it’s a treat to see what the end result is. In this indigo blue piece, a logwood rag (of beet red), was placed on top of the plants, rolled up, and simmered in an iron water solution. The prints were laid to dry for hours, then flattened with an iron, then is ready to be used and appreciated.

Part of creating art is about learning different techniques and experimenting. I’m super happy to have been able to take this course and work with the wonders of the garden; I hope to incorporate these with my illustrations more. Stay tuned!

Wine to Water, Dominican Republic: Water Filter Project

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Wine to Water Dominican Republic Water Filter Project, Photos by Sherrie Thai of

I was very happy and humbled to have had the opportunity to participate in the WINE TO WATER project in the Dominican Republic to help create water filters for the local community (on the 22nd Fathom Impact Trip). Wine to Water is a non-profit organization focused on providing clean water to people around the world. Headquartered in North Carolina, the organization has locations in Africa, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Amazon and Nepal. They utilize local materials: Sawdust, Clay, Charcoal and ship in Liquid Silver to act as a filtration for the rainwater, contaminated local streams, and rivers.

You can find the complete documentary photos HERE (all photos from this series are available for free download from Smugmug)

In the Dominican Republic, nearly 1/3 of the population do not have clean water available. The average income per household is $150 a month, and many times, bottled water needs to be purchased at $1 each. With an average family of five, funds are tight and many diseases arise from contaminated water. I found out about Wine to Water’s amazing project and wanted to help. Here are a few of the wonderful volunteers and workers at the Wine to Water factory in the D.R:

Wine to Water Dominican Republic Water Filter Project, Volunteers, Photos by Sherrie Thai of

The factory is simple but effective. The production of the water filters takes place in 3 main parts: Sifting and mixing the sawdust and clay together to form clay (analog style, dusty hard work!), Shaping the filters by hand and machine, and Firing the dried filters in the kiln. With my group, we helped to create 28 water filters, amounting to about a 100 people helped. Yay!

Wine to Water Dominican Republic Water Filter Project, Factory, Photos by Sherrie Thai of

Producing water filters is an arduous but fulfilling task. The physical work humbles you and makes you grateful for the fact that living in a first world country, you don’t have to worry about the source of the water, if it would make you sick when you drink it, how you will get the water, where would you go to find it, or how much of it you could afford. However, I’m glad to have found a great organization like Wine to Water that helps communities in need and works with them to ensure that the filters work properly.

Wine to Water Dominican Republic Water Filter Project, Production Process, Photos by Sherrie Thai of

After placing the clay filters on racks to be dried, we took another batch of completed filters to a small village in the DR. We met with the community leaders and local families at the community center to distribute the water filters. There was a nearby creek which unfortunately, was polluted with trash (bottom photo)–a reminder of how necessary these water filters are. Through Entrena and Fathom Facilitators, Frank and Francisco, the families were educated on how to care for and utilize the clay filters. The families contribute small funds to help pay for the filters; WtoW found that in general, people became more personally invested in the filters and cared for them better.

With my limited Spanish, I was only able to introduce myself to the families and mumbled where I was from, but the handshake and smiles were met with warm and grateful faces, where words weren’t necessary; it was a very heartfelt and beautiful moment I was pleased to be a part of.

If you’d like to help out, you can visit the WINE TO WATER site to donate or volunteer 🙂

DOCUMENTARY PHOTO ALBUM if interested. Thanks for reading–Cheers!

Wine to Water Dominican Republic Water Filter Project, Community, Photos by Sherrie Thai of