Step into the GAP: Sharing stories of Cambodia in Blackpool, Devon and Somerset

James Ronan, who visited Cambodia on CAFOD’s Step into the Gap, talks about how he has been sharing his experiences of seeing CAFOD’s work in Cambodia.

Since returning from Cambodia I have had the privilege of being able to share the important stories of the people we spent time with on the visit overseas. I have been giving talks and sharing my experiences of CAFOD’s work with students, staff and parishioners in my placement at St Mary’s Catholic Academy and the parish of St John Vianney in Blackpool and across the country. It has been an amazing opportunity sharing the monumental work achieved in Cambodia in such a short space of time only made possible through the Catholic communities support here in England and Wales through CAFOD.

Both myself and fellow gapper Hannah (who went to Ethiopia) had the opportunity to share on the 4th April about our overseas visits at a parish evening at St John Vianney, which was attended by nineteen people. I shared the stories of the Cambodian communities we met in Ou Breus village and how through CAFOD and its partners support the community now has better access to clean safe drinking water through the development of a water pump. For the presentation evening for parishioners I cooked a Cambodian dessert called Kuay Kamuan (Bananas cooked in Coconut milk) and Hannah cooked Ethiopian spinach which went down really well.

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James shares Step into the Gap Cambodia visit with parishioners at an evening at St John Vianney’s in Blackpool.

Most recently I travelled back down to Devon where I am originally from to share the Step into the Gap experience with CAFOD Plymouth School Volunteers at their training day in Honiton. It was great to catch up with CAFOD staff members Simon Giarchi and David Brinn about my work and be able to talk to school volunteers about seeing CAFOD’s work first hand and how through not only parishes but schools engaging in CAFOD fundraising, change has been achieved.

A few days after my visit in Honiton I gave a presentation on Sunday after Mass at Our Lady of the Assumption & St Mary Magdalene in Tavistock (my old parish church) which was attended by over sixty parishioners. Again this presentation was really well received and raised over £100 for CAFOD in donations.  It was nice to go back to the parish where previously I had so much CAFOD input (was previously the CAFOD parish contact and a volunteer for CAFOD Plymouth in my time as a parishioner).

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James at the CAFOD Plymouth schools volunteers training day sharing about the Step into the Gap Cambodia visit.

The week after I travelled over to Somerset where I was warmly welcomed by the parish of St Thomas More in Bradford on Avon to share the stories of the Cambodian people I met and to kick start the parish in getting involved in CAFOD’s work.

On Sunday the 21st of May I attended Mass at the parish and was warmly welcomed by the whole congregation. I shared a little about my placement at St Mary’s, my gap year experience and the importance of CAFOD’s work in Cambodia. I then invited parishioners to listen to my talk after Mass which was in the Hub next door, it was great to see such enthusiasm from the parish about getting involved in CAFOD’s work. Around twenty parishioners attended the presentation after Mass where there was tea, coffee and cake with all donations going towards CAFOD’s work overseas. In total the parish raised £200 for CAFOD from my sharing of CAFOD’s work in Cambodia which was a fantastic achievement and it is hoped now that the parish will go on to fund-raise and get more involved in CAFOD’s work.

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James sharing with parishioners of St Thomas More. 

It has been great to share the first hand experiences of CAFOD’s and its partners with others and the important stories of the Cambodian people I met and spent time with in Cambodia. I am really looking forward to the last few months in my placement in Blackpool working at St Mary’s getting students involved in CAFOD’s work.

Step into the GAP: Why partnership is the key to building change in rural communities in Cambodia

James Ronan, who is currently taking part in CAFOD’s Step into the Gap, talks about why partnership is the key driver for change and how this CAFOD value is put into practice in rural communities in Cambodia.

CAFOD has seven values that inspires the work that they carry out across the world these are compassion, hope, dignity, solidarity, partnership, sustainability and stewardship. During our two and half weeks in Cambodia one of the things that particularly struck me was the sense of community and partnership in every village community we spent time with. For me partnership was a key CAFOD value that we all saw in practice over the few weeks we spent in Cambodia. Partnership comes from the call of our Christian faith to work together building the links between the communities CAFOD works with across the world, with the Catholic community here in England and Wales working together to help build God’s kingdom here on earth.

In our first week of our visit we spent time with CAFOD partner Village Support Group (VSG) working in the village of Ou Breus in Battambang. We saw the community linkages and partnerships that had already been established and took part in a committee meeting listening to the community who were putting the support of CAFOD into practice.

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The village committee in Ou Breus village

 We heard how the community committee was very thankful for CAFOD’s support in their three year project “Water Saves Lives” helping to support in providing access to clean water and education in hygiene to avoid disease. Tuc Nang the community leader said to us “that he was happy and hopeful for the future livelihoods of people in the village, and that the community was very happy to have learnt water management skills and water resource management.” He ended our time spent with the committee by saying that “the community liked CAFOD’s grass roots local level approach of partnership in supporting the community over the next three years.” It was such a thankful statement, a testament about the way CAFOD works as an organisation and all the committees we met during our visit in Cambodia all said the same thing.

Find out more about Step into the Gap

In the second week we witnessed the community partnerships between CAFOD’s partner Srer Khmer and village communities. The project in these communities is socio-economic empowerment enabling women, men and children to make changes in their villages. We saw a woman’s cooking demonstration in Tipadey village supported by CAFOD, these demonstrations occur once a month in the community. The sharing of advice on using more vegetables in meals (in Cambodia many rural families do not eat the daily recommended amount of fruit and vegetables) have really helped families eat healthier. Alongside this there was also a focus on hygiene education the washing of hands before and after meals.

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The women’s cooking demonstration in Tipadey village

In Tipadey village I also had the privilege of meeting one of the members of CAFOD’s partnership programme Connect 2, Dos la and his family. Connect 2 in Cambodia is a fairly recent expansion of CAFOD’s parish partnership programme. This programme is about sharing. Sharing the monumental fundraising work conducted by parishioners in England and Wales with village communities in Cambodia and Cambodian communities sharing their stories and the impact of CAFOD’s work back with those in the UK.

The programme of Connect 2 for me encompasses all of CAFOD’s values. Compassion (through wanting to help our global brothers and sisters), hope (sharing hope for change), dignity (that we are all equal in the eyes of God), solidarity (sharing each other’s struggles), partnership (working together for change), sustainability and stewardship (remembering that the cry of the Earth is inherently linked with the cry of the poor and that we should look after the global resources entrusted to us). The people of Tipadey are very thankful for CAFOD’s support and look forward to the continuing partnerships of the future.

Find out more about Connect 2 in Cambodia

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Dos La and his family Thanking Connect 2 Parishes Ely, Camberly and Bagshot

After our two and half week’s experience of hearing from village communities and seeing them working together with CAFOD’s support, me and all the other gappers came away from Cambodia with a greater appreciation of the importance of CAFOD’s work in Cambodia and the continued need to learn from one another. Partnership is at the heart of this, a key driver to generate real positive change.

CAFOD Step into the GAP Induction

James Ronan 23, has written a reflective piece on his induction week at St Marys Catholic Academy in Blackpool and his induction with CAFOD in London in preparation for his Step into the Gap year placement in Blackpool this year.

I travelled up to Blackpool on Sunday the 26th of June and the induction at St Marys lasted till the Wednesday. On the Monday both me and Hannah (who’s the other gapper I will be working with) met all the staff at St Marys Catholic Academy again. We chatted with the chaplaincy team as well as the head teachers of the college and the primary school where we will be working. We also met two of the other gappers who will be working at Just Youth in Salford photo below.

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