Step into the Gap: Planting, Harvesting and Saving in Sierra Leone

Kayleigh Margetts, one of the Step into the Gap volunteers, who is currently on placement at The Briars retreat centre, shares her experience of seeing CAFOD’s partner work in Sierra Leone.

Find out more about Step into the Gap

In our second week, we travelled to Modia in Gbinleh Dixon chiefdom to visit the cassava farm and the vegetable garden that belonged to the community.

After having a wonderful experience meeting the community of Maforay the day before, all of us were excited to meet this new group of people with inspiring experiences and an incredible culture.

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Step into the Gap: Hope and Sustainability in El Salvador

CAFOD gap year volunteers, Ciara Hogan and Sophie Aulton, who are currently on their placements at The Briars and Leeds Trinity University, reflect on hope and sustainability in El Salvador.

Find out more about Step into the Gap

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Step into the Gap: A warm welcome

CAFOD Step into the Gap volunteer Hannah Collinson shares her experiences of being welcomed by communities in Sierra Leone.

We have just ended an unbelievable week with KADDRO (Kambia District Development and Rehabilitation Organisation) in Kambia, in the North West of Sierra Leone.

Learn how you can get involved with Step into the Gap 

As I think back to all the incredible experiences that we have had I am struggling to find words that can do justice to the people we have met throughout this time.

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Step into the Gap: “I feel Romero’s compassion alive today”

CAFOD Step into the Gap volunteer Ciara Hogan shares her experiences of arriving in El Salvador, meeting CAFOD’s partners and seeing inspiring, creative projects.

Our first few days in Central America have been absolutely incredible. In the short time we’ve been here we have already experienced so many different people and places, each giving us so much to think about and reflect on.

Find out more about Step into the Gap 

One of those experiences was our visit to La Palma, a town in the mountains of El Salvador bordering Honduras. This was our first visit to a family since we arrived.

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Step into the Gap: Arriving in Sierra Leone

CAFOD Step into the Gap volunteer Siobhan Doyle shares her experiences of arriving in West Africa, meeting CAFOD’s partners and seeing the projects that fundraising in England and Wales has helped to fund.

We have now been in Sierra Leone for three days and have been eating lots of plantain, chicken, and rice! The food is amazing, and I have been eating plantain all day.

Learn more about Step into the Gap

We arrived in Freetown on Sunday night. We got a boat taxi from the airport to Freetown and Janet, who is the program officer, and Alusine, the driver, met us to take us to the hotel. We then had dinner and went straight to bed after the long journey.

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Sussex CAFOD volunteers attend historic papal audience

Christina Lucey, a parishioner at St Mary Magdalene, Bexhill-on-Sea, and CAFOD volunteer, writes about her experience of hearing Pope Francis announce the new global migration campaign – ‘Share the Journey’ – at Saint Peter’s Square in Rome. 

What a wonderful morning – despite having to queue for over an hour from 7am to have a chance of a good situation in the square! Under the guidance of our tour guide, our group managed to find places close to the barrier where we could sit and rest for the long wait until Pope Francis was scheduled to appear.

Watch a video to learn more about the campaign launch

There was great excitement when Pope Francis finally appeared and did his usual tour. I stood on a chair so that I could see better and was able to alert the group when he was coming. We had to wait until almost the end, but it was worth it.

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Small acts of kindness make a huge difference to refugees

Rosie Heaton, CAFOD’s regional communications assistant in the North West, reflects on the compassion being shown from Catholic people across England and Wales to refugees.

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During the Year of Mercy, CAFOD supporters from parishes and schools across England and Wales responded to the refugee crisis by writing more than 30,000 Messages of Hope.  I had the honour of delivering just a few of these messages when I visited a refugee wellbeing class in Salford.

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Climate champions share their experience of global climate conference

CAFOD climate champions, John Paul and Eleanor Margetts, share their experience of attending COY13, the 13th Youth Conference that runs alongside the annual climate conference COP23. 

Hello! Our names are John Paul, Edward and Eleanor and we have just finished taking part in COY13, the Conference of Youth that took place in Bonn, Germany, ahead of the COP23 Conference – the conference of parties which meets annually to discuss climate change.

The COY13 conference aims to mobilise people into taking action for climate change, particularly in the context of implementing the Paris Agreement as a result of COP21.

Learn more about CAFOD volunteering opportunities

We formed part of the youth delegation, a gathering of around 1,000 young people from all over the world, coming together to learn and to share ideas on making positive changes for the good of the environment and for climate justice.

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Sturdier homes for families in Daganas, the Philippines

Maggie Mairura from Nottingham shares her experience of a recent visit the Philippines to meet communities to who were helped after a devastating Typhoon.  

tuk tuks on a road in the Philippines
family road trip.

Having stayed overnight in Sorsogon, we were up early on Sunday morning and left at 6am in the pouring rain.  Much to the annoyance of our companions, myself and Ged Edwards, who I was travelling with, sang some songs with ‘rain’ in the title!  We were soon silenced by breakfast sandwiches and a hot drink!!

Find out more about our emergency work.

The two-hour journey took us south to the barangay (village) of Daganas, outside the town of Bulan.  The roads were framed by rice fields, coconut and banana trees.  In some parts, the roads were edged with bamboo houses and shops, with washing hanging out to dry.  Once we turned off the main road, we continued a good 30 minutes along lanes which got narrower the higher we went, dogs nonchalantly lying in our path, moving at the very last minute, just to let us know who was boss.  In parts, the lane turned to tracks and we eventually arrived at Daganas.  We were warmly welcomed by barangay captain, Jimmy, who invited us into his office, just off the basketball court, the centre of the village.

woman stood outside her new sturdier, typhoon resistant home..
Medina outside her new sturdier home.

As we sat with him I noticed a group of women outside, looking in through the window so I excused myself and went out to meet them.  They were all very keen to show me their new houses and Medina escorted me up the steep steps to her home.  She explained how her previous home, made from bamboo, had been destroyed during Typhoon Melor (Nona) in December 2015 and how she was now very happy with her sturdier new home.

Watch some of our emergency response training.

She lived there with her husband and 5 of her 8 children.  The three eldest were in Manila working in fast food restaurants and sending home essential financial support.  We headed down the steps and one of the women caught my attention and off we went to see her pig.  Anna was the recipient of the livelihood scheme and had been given a sow.  Once a litter arrived she was required to ‘pass on the gift’ and give one of the piglets to her neighbour.  We continued through the back lanes of the barangay passing a family washing their clothes, livestock of ducks, hens and turkeys scurrying around, pumps for drinking water and general water use.  We then met Melanie who as well as having a new sturdier home also had a co-op (sari sari) shop, one of 3 in the barangay.

woman stood outside her new sari-sari shop in the Philippines.
Melanie and her new sari-sari shop.

It was obvious that they were all very proud of their new homes and the means of providing for themselves and their families. There was also dignity in that they could provide not only for themselves but for their neighbours.  As part of the programme after the typhoon, the community is encouraged to work together in self-help groups not only to sustain their community but also to be prepared for the eventual arrival of another typhoon! However, they felt more secure in the knowledge that their new homes would survive the next one.  Wherever we travelled we saw large posters informing people that July was National Disaster Consciousness Month and that drills would be taking place nationwide.  It certainly puts into perspective how we respond when we have a few flakes of snow!

Donate to our emergency work. 

As we made our way back to the minibus, the women began to ask me about my family and my work.  I took out the photos I had brought for the trip and introduced them to my family.  I had also taken some photos of our volunteers and I explained to them how our volunteers respond to emergency appeals and how we work through praying, giving and acting to support projects like the one here in Daganas.  It was very humbling and moving to connect our volunteers with recipients of our appeals.

My overall experience of the emergency work and sustainable livelihood programmes is that NASSA/Caritas Philippines goes to communities that local and national government are not interested in – they go to those at the end of the tracks.

How I’m inspiring people to speak up about the climate

Jason Sheehan, a CAFOD volunteer for the Nottingham Diocese, explains how his CAFOD gap year inspired him to continue volunteering, campaigning and fighting for social justice. His latest project involves encouraging people in his community to speak up about the climate after he attended an inspiring camp in Portugal.  

After my experience on CAFOD’s gap year programme ‘Step Into The Gap’ I left my year enriched with memories from working with thousands of young people in my placement to witnessing and regularly discussing CAFOD’s work with partners in Zimbabwe.

That became my lifestyle for a year, to fully give myself to making some form of impact inspired by the values of CAFOD no matter how big or small. It was after leaving that structured program that I worried about whether this would be something that I would be able to continue, would there be other opportunities that motivated me to act?

There is still time to sign up for the CAFOD gap year.

That was when I became aware of the opportunity to become a Climate Champion. It’s very easy to sit on the sidelines of change, to put your faith in something or someone else to sort things out but if our world as a collective had that mindset then no progress would be made. For me this opportunity to be a Climate Champion encouraged me to act upon that, to take ownership and action on changing our climate.

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