Freetown’s long road to recovery

Kathleen O’Brien works in the schools team and travelled to Sierra Leone with the Step into the Gap volunteers earlier this year. 

Entering Sierra Leone’s capital on a quiet morning, I could hear the happy cries of children echoing out of the glassless windows of the Malamakaningo pre-primary school.

This was a stark contrast from a year ago. In August 2017 the school was used to shelter people who had lost their homes in a disaster from which Freetown is only beginning to recover. Torrential rain battered the city for three days, and in the early hours of August 14, floodwaters and landslides ploughed through the areas surrounding the capital, killing 1,141 people and displacing three times that number.

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Step into the Gap: Reflecting on my time in Freetown

CAFOD volunteer, Chris Burkette, who is currently taking part in CAFOD’s Step into the Gap programme and is on placement at Walsingham House, reflects on his time meeting communities in Sierra Leone.

I know for so many people it can be rare to explore outside of Europe, but for many people here in Sierra Leone, it is even rarer that they journey beyond their communities.

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This week has been awe-inspiring, faith-driven and hope-filled. Each day I walked with and alongside members of the towns that made each community so unique.

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Step into the Gap: An inspiring week in Kambia

CAFOD Step into the Gap volunteer Siobhan Doyle, who is currently completing her placement at Newman University, shares her experience of meeting CAFOD’s partners in Sierra Leone.

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We have spent a week in Kambia visiting CAFOD’s partner – The Kambia District Development and Rehabilitation Organisation, KADDRO for short. The staff have been so welcoming and so willing to answer all of our questions.

We visited three rural communities in Kambia where KADDRO works on access to water, sanitation and health, savings and loans groups, ways to make a living projects and women’s breastfeeding and pregnancy groups.

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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.

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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: 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.

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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: 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.

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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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Step into the Gap: Preparing for our travels

Our team of Step into the Gap volunteers are about to depart for their overseas trips to either Sierra Leona or Nicaragua and El Salvador. We asked them how they are feeling and how they are preparing for their trips.

Kayleigh, Christopher, Siobhan and Hannah are travelling to Sierra Leone.

Kayleigh

Kayleigh is on placement at The Briars youth residential centre in Nottingham diocese

Gapper kayleigh is travelling to Sierra Leone
Kayleigh

At The Briars we use our morning prayer time and workshop sessions to help young people be aware of many of the issues facing communities in Sierra Leone, for example, recovering from the recent  landslide.
When I get back from visiting Sierra Leone I will get the opportunity to visit groups of young people and share what I’ve learnt, and I am so keen to get out there to tell them about the people of Sierra Leone, as I already know that they are invested in what I will be seeing and who I will be meeting. I cannot contain my gratitude and excitement and I truly acknowledge that this programme is a once in a lifetime.

Applications are now open for Step into the Gap 2018. Apply now

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Back to school: A parent’s reflection

This week Claire Bolt is helping her daughter prepare to start school. In this blog she talks about her hopes for the year ahead.

Claire is a parent preparing to go back to school
Claire with her family.

My eldest daughter is starting school in September. Honestly, despite the‘time flies’ warnings you get from elderly aunts, I can’t quite believe it. As the start date draws nearer, I’m remembering Kathleen’s baby stage with glee (sleepless nights, what sleepless nights?), watching with pride as she runs around the park, or grins down at me when she makes it to the top of the climbing frame. She’s only little so what am I doing buying pinafores and black shoes and hair bands to match her uniform?

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And then comes the panic. How on earth will we get out of the house on time every morning when just getting dressed or having breakfast can take the best part of an hour? What if she doesn’t like her teacher? Will she make friends? Deep breath. Reception, here we come.

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Where are the Doors of Mercy?

Catherine Gorman from our Theology Programme reflects on the Doors of Mercy, where they can be seen in our world and how we can open them to others.

Refugees being directed at a barrier checkpoint, on their way to cross the Greek-Macedonian border.A couple of weeks’ ago I walked through the Door of Mercy at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark with CAFOD colleagues from all around the country. We were praying for refugees and migrants, forced to leave their homes in search of a better life. And as we heard the stories of our brothers and sisters from around the world, intertwined with Scripture, Catholic Social Teaching and prayers, we were moved – imagining ourselves in their shoes, and recognising the need for God’s mercy in our world.

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As Pope Francis has said: “By crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.” (Misericordiae Vultus #14)

As we passed through the door, I had a real sense that I and my colleagues were truly (re)committing ourselves to share God’s mercy with others, a sense that has stayed with me since.

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Ebola crisis: we are the foot soldiers

Please pray for all those affected by the Ebola virus

Burial team 1

In her second blog from Sierra Leone, Nana Anto-Awuakye writes about a volunteer burial team on the front line of the fight against Ebola.

We leave behind the bustle of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, where the Ebola prevention posters plastered across all available wall space, and on cars and motorbikes, are now looking tattered and faded.

The landscape changes from precarious half-built houses perched on the hillsides surrounding the city, to lush green savannah grasslands.

We are heading to Kambia in the north-east of the country, a district that became a hotspot as the Ebola epidemic gripped the country last year. Sandwiched between the urban district of Port Loko to the south and the border with Guinea – where the virus started – to the north, the odds seem stacked against this unassuming town.

But an amazing partnership has developed here between the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health, local volunteers – including teachers, students and farmers – and CAFOD, to form the Safe and Dignified Burial team of Kambia. Together they have refused to be overwhelmed by the odds stacked against them.

Burial volunteers

On a piece of land the size of two football pitches is an important part of the operation – the Kambia Ebola Response Fleet site, managed by CAFOD and its local partner Caritas Makeni. Continue reading “Ebola crisis: we are the foot soldiers”