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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maggie Mairura from Nottingham shares her experience of a recent visit the Philippines to meet communities to who were helped after a devastating Typhoon.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
Sandra Iheanacho, a CAFOD volunteer from Westminster diocese, recently travelled to Fatima, Portugal to attend a sustainability camp inspired by Laudato Si’. There she saw Laudato Si’ brought to life and here she talks about her experiences and how every community can get involved.
The week of the 100th anniversary of our Lady of Fatima had finally arrived. I was on my way to meet up with my fellow ‘Climate Champion’ volunteers from CAFOD to journey to Lisbon, Portugal together. As we all gathered at Gatwick airport, we took the time to discuss over breakfast our expectations, worries, and fears. Our questions ranged from ‘what will the Casa Velha farm be like?’ to ‘why was a swimming costume needed?’
Arriving in Lisbon, we were welcomed by palm trees, clear skies, and heat, but it was not long before we ventured outside, and were hit by harsh wind and rain that quickly reminded us of why we were here; to tackle Laudato Si’.
Rachel Mannix is a CAFOD volunteer who has written and performed her spoken word poetry for CAFOD. Inspired by her faith, Rachel explains how she learned a new form of prayer.
Growing up there have been so many times that I’ve come home after an incredible experience of God and thought, “What next?”
During special events, like youth conferences, the atmosphere is electric and you feel so connected and strengthened in your faith but then when it is over you get a feeling of withdrawal from that community and spirituality – you can feel lost, deflated and on your own.
It can be really difficult to keep the momentum going when you are faced with your normality but I’m learning more and more that God doesn’t ask us to do that on our own. He wants to be a part of our day-to-day lives and I don’t want to just have a relationship with Him when I’m at an event, but all the time.