Ebola Crisis: On leaving Sierra Leone

Caritas_Sierra Leone_Tommy Trenchard_Oct (9)
CAFOD’s work includes promoting good hygiene and training communities in how to stop the spread of the disease.

Catherine Mahony, CAFOD’s  Humanitarian Coordinator for West Africa, has been working on Ebola in Sierra Leone for the last three months. She reflects on coming home.

Donate to CAFOD’s Ebola crisis appeal

This week I’ll be taking the boat to the airport to leave Sierra Leone, three months to the day since I arrived.

I remember well the apprehension I felt when I first came in on that boat, mainly at the enormity of the task and the scale of the crisis.

In October last year we were preparing ourselves for the possibility that 1.4 million people would be infected with Ebola by the end of the year if we didn’t massively step up our efforts.

As of the 25 January, the World Health Organisation estimates that the cumulative confirmed, probable and suspected cases across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea stands at 21,724 and the graphs finally seem to be flattening out, showing fewer cases per day. It’s still too many lives lost, but thankfully not our worst case scenario.

At last, districts in Sierra Leone are crossing the ‘Ebola free’ threshold, having passed 42 days without a new case. I feel a sense of relief that we were able to prevent the worst and our optimism albeit small is allowed to grow a little every day.

So many people have made an extraordinary effort to get us to this point: the local health workers who selflessly stepped up to care for the sick and dying, 221 of whom here in Sierra Leone lost their lives to Ebola; the brave men and women who volunteered to join burial teams and dig graves, every day facing the strain of grieving families; and the people across England and Wales who’ve generously donated to CAFOD. Continue reading “Ebola Crisis: On leaving Sierra Leone”

Step into the Gap Zimbabwe – Day visit to Murehwa

CAFOD’s gap year volunteers in Zimbabwe send their latest update from their journey…

Kieron and Lizzie meet partners
Kieron and Lizzie meet CAFOD partners from ‘Sanitation to Success’

Today we were thrilled to be visiting our first CAFOD project in Murehwa, one hour north-east of Harare. On arrival we met with CAFOD partner, Caritas Harare and the Murehwa authorities. They told us about the Sanitation for Success programme that CAFOD supports, and that we’d be visiting throughout the day.

Learn more about CAFOD’s work in Zimbabwe

First up, we attended a training workshop for community health workers about the importance of good sanitation in communities. As it was the first meeting, we all took part in a ‘getting to know you’ exercise, which we really enjoyed. This showed us the importance of the programme facilitators taking the time to get to know the community health workers and likewise for the health workers to really get to know their communities, facilitating collaboration, understanding and strong teamwork.

Continue reading “Step into the Gap Zimbabwe – Day visit to Murehwa”

Hands On: A big thank you from Philip

2015 is in full swing and so are the people of Kitui.

Everyone is hard at work on all aspects of the project – terracing, tree-planting, sand dams, check dams and preparing for work on the main Musosya dam.

Philip, the project coordinator for Hands On Kitui is pleased to say he’s back at work after a bad car accident. He’s sent a video to say thank you to everyone who sent cards and well wishes. If you want to send Philip a message, just let us know in the comments below!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aP8GNCkat2o&w=640&h=360]

Continue reading “Hands On: A big thank you from Philip”

Step into the Gap – Welcome to Nicaragua!

Hola! Greetings from Kate, Steph, Bernie, Chris, Tania and Vicky in Nicaragua. The first few days of this trip have been amazing and as a group we thought we would each share a part of our experience up to now.

“Welcome to Nicaragua.” The sound of the flight attendant announcing, in her very American accent, our arrival brought up excitement in all of us. Tom, a friendly face and experienced aid worker from Canada, was there to meet us with another taxi driver, Jaime.  On the way back to our accommodation with Jaime, we passed many low level concrete buildings with corrugated iron roofs but also on the main street every 100 metres or so these 15 metres high stunningly yellow trees absolutely covered in lightbulbs stood. Tania asked Jaime what it was and apparently they are “The Tree of Life”, the work of the first lady Rosario Murillo. It seemed so out of place. When we got back to our accommodation, we were warmly welcomed and were certainly pleased to know that there was air conditioning in each of the rooms before we got some much needed sleep after the 22 hour journey.

The Nicaragua Step into the Gap team outside CAFOD office
The Nicaragua Step into the Gap team outside CAFOD office

After we had arrived and spent some time resting we woke and headed out on our first day to meet the Central America CAFOD team. We were greeted at the office by the whole team who are so friendly and welcoming. We spent time finding out more about what CAFOD’s work focuses are in Central America, in particular Nicaragua. This has given us a better understanding of the country, its history and the people. We can’t wait to spend time working alongside them and the partners they work with to really experience all that the team support partners in, whether training, networking or support.

Find out more about CAFOD’s work in Nicaragua

As we embarked on our second day in Managua we couldn’t wait to find out more about the partners and communities we would be visiting whilst we are here. We started our day by meeting ASOMUPRO, the association of women’s farmers. This gave us opportunities to not only learn more about ASOMUPRO but an opportunity to connect with the people who worked in there office and what they valued about the work of ASOMUPRO. This was a truly inspiring and emotional opportunity to learn.

ASOMUPRO - Association of Women's Farmers
ASOMUPRO – Association of Women’s Farmers

We then continued our day by meeting the John XXIII Institute to learn more about the strong friendship they have with CAFOD and the work they do out in communities. The afternoon ended with our final meeting with the Sisters of the Guardian Angel in partnership with Envio. The sisters work with young people on community leadership and empowerment. They also run a canteen which gives young children the opportunity to gather and play games.  We can’t wait to meet everyone, get to know them and learn.

CAFOD gap year volunteers meeting the Sisters of the Guardian Angel
CAFOD gap year volunteers meeting the Sisters of the Guardian Angel

Today is our third day and has been absolutely incredible! After a tiring few days recovering from jetlag and meeting lots of people, today was a day where we got to experience the local environment that Managua has to offer. We began by going to the top of one of the many live volcanos which Nicaragua has. This was a first for us all and had us in awe! It was out of this world to stand at the edge of the crater and see the smoke, not something I ever thought I’d be able to say. We sampled the local delicacy of coconut juice to cool us down.

Drinking coconuts
Drinking coconuts

The afternoon was spent in paradise. We swam in a beautiful lagoon in the valley of the volcano we had just climbed. It was so refreshing after a morning of intense heat. However, what really struck me was the bumpy ride we had to get there; driving past posh luxurious hillside villas right next to whole communities living in tin roof shacks was something that hit me as quite shocking.

Another thing that really struck us after yesterday, was the importance of looking after our world. We are all very fortunate to live in a place where climate change is not such a massive issue as it is in Nicaragua. The beautiful greenery and landscapes are breathtaking as we saw from the top of the volcano. However we have also heard about how El Nino (a weather system) has affected the country, especially the harvests and CAFOD partners have been working very hard to help people become more resilient and adapt to the changing climates. We will be learning more about this issue over the next few weeks.

Join CAFOD’s One Climate, One World campaign to support communities around the world affected by climate change

These past few days have been truly awe inspiring, and have got the team extremely excited for the next coming weeks ahead. As of next week, we will be venturing out of Managua and going into rural Nicaragua to meet CAFOD partners to truly immerse ourselves into the communities and everyday life of those around us.

Some exciting things that are planned ahead for us  over the next coming weeks is beekeeping, as well as learning about the importance of  empowerment of  women here in Nicaragua, we also have the opportunity to visit social housing projects as well as assisting the Sisters of the Guardian Angels.

Interested in the Step into the Gap programme? Applications are open now

Read more blogs from young people – meet our Young Climate Bloggers

Step into the Gap – first blog from Zimbabwe!

The Step into the Gap volunteers arrive in Zimbabwe
The Step into the Gap volunteers arrive in Zimbabwe

We have arrived, safe and sound in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. The weather is beautiful – sunny and warm. The journey was long and tiring, but we were all very excited to get our first view of Harare in the drive from the airport. Many things were surprising and new to us – people grilling corn on the cob on stones at the side of the road, people selling newspapers in the middle of the traffic or carrying crates of bread on their heads. We were all ready for the lovely evening meal at the Dominican Convent, where we received a very warm welcome from the sisters, which immediately made us feel at ease and at home.

Find out more and apply for the Step into the Gap programme

Getting ready for a long awaited good night’s sleep turned out to be more eventful than expected. Leila locked herself out of her room and camped out on Lizzie’s floor, Lizzie temporarily broke the tap in the shower, Keiron overcame his fear of spiders thanks to the company of a particularly big black one in his room, and although Mary was missing her phone and the internet, all in all, we enjoyed a great rest.

Continue reading “Step into the Gap – first blog from Zimbabwe!”

Forging peace in South Sudan

By John Ashworth, adviser to the Sudan and South Sudan churches

South Sudan sank into civil war in December 2013, less than three years after gaining independence. This latest civil war is often described as a political power struggle which soon morphed into ethnic conflict.

However, it might be more accurate to say ‘revenge-driven’ rather than ‘ethnic’. The lack of a reconciliation process to address the hurts of earlier conflicts has only exacerbated the thirst for revenge. The peace talks led by the regional grouping IGAD in Ethiopia’s capital Addis are attempting to address the political component; but who will address the cycle of revenge?

Bibiana - refugee camp, Juba, South Sudan
Bibiana Okong lives in the safety of a camp on the outskirts of Juba. She fled to the camp after one of her sons was accused of being a government soldier and was killed.

‘People to People’ – bringing communities together

In the 1990s, during an earlier conflict which also exhibited ethnic revenge dynamics, the churches created an innovative People to People Peace Process which brought warring communities together again. Aid agencies such as CAFOD played a major role as partners in supporting the original People to People Peace process, working with and through the Church at the grassroots to build peace at a local level in communities. The lessons learnt from this process can contribute to resolving the current conflict.

Please donate to support vulnerable communities in South Sudan

These days the term ‘People to People’ seems to be bandied about by anyone who wants to raise funds for their own particular peace and reconciliation conference. However, People to People was not primarily about conferences; it was about months and indeed years of patient preparation, mobilisation, awareness-raising, consultation and trust-building on the ground before the high-profile conferences took place. Bringing a few chiefs and elders together for a highly-visible quick-fix conference is not ‘People to People’. Continue reading “Forging peace in South Sudan”

Introducing our new CAFOD young climate bloggers!

CAFOD's new young climate bloggers!
Some of CAFOD’s new young climate bloggers!

Our 25 new CAFOD young climate bloggers are launching One Climate, One World for children and young people today at Brentwood Cathedral. They have been training with CAFOD in media and campaigning at the Othona Community in Essex. They will be blogging on climate and environment issues throughout 2015. Here are their very first blogs: Continue reading “Introducing our new CAFOD young climate bloggers!”

Marvellous Marmalady – The Value of Volunteers

Alice Stride works in CAFOD’s PR team.

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Gloria Irons with her marvellous marmalade

CAFOD is privileged to have many wonderful supporters. One supporter, ‘Marmalady’ Gloria Irons from Norwich, has raised over £10,000 for us with her marvellous homemade marmalade – and her wonderful work has even been written about in the national press.

Gloria’s marmalade success “started by accident”. She said, “I was going to a fete and I  had forgotten to bake anything. I grabbed some jars of  marmalade I  had made and they sold like hot cakes.”

Make a donation to CAFOD’s work

Continue reading “Marvellous Marmalady – The Value of Volunteers”