Step into the GAP: James finishes his CAFOD Gap year placement at St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Blackpool

James Ronan 24, has written a reflective piece about finishing Step into the Gap, sharing stories of Cambodia, his highlights and what his hopes are for a future career.

So the time has come to say goodbye to Blackpool and St Mary’s Catholic Academy. It has been incredible year, moving all the way up from Devon to live in Blackpool to volunteer for CAFOD. It has probably been the biggest step in my life so far. Literally Stepping into the Gap in Blackpool: moving to a new area, not knowing anybody and starting a new life for a year. It has all worked out and I have had so many amazing experiences, made new friends and have met so many inspiring people, most notably in Cambodia with my fellow CAFOD gappers.

It has been great to play my small part in being able to share CAFOD’s work this year working in the Diocese of Lancaster and living within the parish at St John Vianney Presbytery. Working at St Mary’s as part of the chaplaincy team has been an absolute joy and I will have very fond memories of the team and the work we have achieved this year. My highlights include co-organising the 6th form Climate debate for CAFOD’s Speak Up campaign with guest MPs Paul Maynard and Gordon Marsden in October 2016. Leading sessions with Year 7s during form time about the Refugee crisis and the Lampedusa cross, and presenting assemblies to all college forms with the chaplaincy team on Justice January and CAFOD’s renewable energy campaign Power to Be.

Find out more about the Power to Be campaign

The Cambodia visit in January was so inspiring and affirming for me of CAFOD’s work overseas. Previously in Devon I had helped fundraise a lot for CAFOD (over £7,000) never really knowing the impact such fundraising was having. Seeing first-hand the difference my parish fundraising had made over the years as well as all the collective impact of the Catholic communities’ support in England and Wales on the other side of the world in Cambodia was elevating.

Photo 1 CAFOD Gappers with Singha

The CAFOD gappers alongside their interpreter for their first week, Singha former director of CAFOD Partner Village Support Group.

It’s an experience I will never forget. I have very fond memories of the Cambodian people we visited during our time in Battambang and Siem Reap who were so welcoming and CAFOD’s partners Village Support Group and Srer Khmer who we spent time with. On my return to the UK, the last few months of my placement have been about sharing CAFOD campaigns, fundraising and sharing the inspirational stories of the people I met and spent time with in Cambodia. In May I visited the CAFOD Plymouth Schools Volunteers to share about my Cambodia experiences and I also shared with parishioners after Mass at my old parish church in Tavistock.

Volunteer for CAFOD

As well as sharing my CAFOD Step into the Gap experiences this year with students, parishioners and CAFOD volunteers, I have also been able to share my gap year work with British and American Actors. In May I managed to share about my CAFOD gap year work with actress Hannah Spearritt (S Club 7) and actor Andrew-Lee Potts (from ITVs Primeval) at a comic convention in Huddersfield. In June I also shared with British actor Paul Blackthorne (TV show Arrow) and American actress Danielle Panabaker (TV show The Flash) at a convention in Blackpool. It has been a fantastic year of sharing CAFOD’s work with others, the important stories of the Cambodian people I met and my work as a CAFOD Gapper working at St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Blackpool.

More recently from the 7th to the 9th of July in Oxford the CAFOD gappers had a final weekend get together, for our final evaluation and celebration. The weekend was fantastic. Myself and the other gappers went out for a meal on the Friday evening which was an opportunity to catch up about our CAFOD work and the things we had been doing. On the Saturday we were joined by CAFOD staff Catherine Jones and Lucy Jardine who run the Step into the Gap programme as well as Sister Ann who is a part of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus who are one of the partners of the Step into the Gap programme.

Photo 2 Footprints of CAFOD Sharing

Prayers and representations of the CAFOD gappers sharing across the year.

We began the Saturday morning with prayer and reflection, writing on cut-out hands the people who have made a difference to our lives this year. We also used cut-out footprints to represent the people we had shared CAFOD’s work with this year, thinking about the impact of our CAFOD sharing. On the Saturday evening we all went out for a final meal with Catherine, Lucy and Sister Ann to celebrate our accomplishments this year completing the Step into the GAP programme.

There are so many people I would like to ‘Thank’ this year so I will only mention a few. I would like to ‘Thank’ everyone at St Mary’s and the parish of St John Vianney as well as everyone involved with the Step into the Gap programme, especially Bishop Michael Campbell and CAFOD staff Catherine Jones, Lucy Jardine and Patrick Gardner. I would like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to Fr Peter Sharrock and Sister Ann for their support this year in Blackpool and I would also like to ‘Thank’ this year’s CAFOD Gappers: Rod, Charlotte, Sophie, Bridgid, Lizzie, Sophie and Hannah for making this year so memorable and amazing.

Photo 3 Gappers Together

The CAFOD gappers for 2016-2017 in Oxford for their last time together.

In terms of my future I am moving down to Somerset for the time being. I have gained so many skills and have had so many new experiences this year that I hope to be able to use these to eventually develop a career in a Catholic Diocese somewhere or to work for a charity in the development sector. I hope to be able to continue to put my Catholic faith into action building on everything I have achieved so far and I am excited about what the future holds for me.

                          Find out more about Step into the Gap

 

 

 

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.

Photo 1

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).

Photo 2

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.

P1050178

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.

hdr

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.

Photograph 2

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

Photograph 3

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.