Emily in Sierra Leone on Step into the Gap Programme

Emily Hodgson is one of two young people from the Diocese of Salford who are currently volunteering for CAFOD as part of its “Step into the Gap” programme. Emily is currently in Sierra Leone visiting projects funded by CAFOD working with its partners in that country. Emily has been keeping a blog/diary of her experiences and here is the first installment:

Freetown Saturday 11th– Tuesday 14th January

Our first week in Sierra Leone has been amazing. We arrived in Africa in an airport a lot smaller than Heathrow, then waited on the beach in the inky night for the water taxi. It soon arrived and took us on our journey over the choppy waves, and the local sat next to me kept offering to buy me jewellery which I politely refused all the way back to Freetown. That evening after checking into our hotel we had lunch at a nearby restaurant, then relaxed in our hotel, falling asleep under our mosquito nets which spanned our beds like cobwebs. On Sunday we went to the Cathedral  and had mass there, and met the bishop who made us feel welcome. The mass was long and lively with many different priests and we were strategically sat right in front of electric fan which cooled us down.

In the afternoon we visited the mall and we saw a man in a wheelchair who rode along next to us and was asking for more support from CAFOD til he found a job. It was touching when we went to the nearest restaurant that evening and he recognised us, giving us the biggest grin.

The next day we went to the CAFOD office in Freetown and had a Skype conversation with Chris Bain, the director of CAFOD in London, and had a session on how CAFOD operates in Sierra Leone. I’m looking forward to seeing first-hand the benefits CAFOD has on the local community and how the communities are continuing the work using the new skills they have learnt.

The day after we were given a tour of Freetown. We saw the local university and the football stadium. As we drove through Freetown we saw that lots of the houses had tin roofs and were really closely packed; all of the houses were overpopulated and it was quite hard hitting to see the people living in these conditions. They had used whatever objects they could find such as billboards, cargo containers and corrugated iron to create their makeshift houses. Lots of the locals were walking around carrying things on their heads to sell. They live a completely different lifestyle here.

Makeni Wednesday   15th– Friday 17th January

We’ve now had the chance to see the people in the caritas office in Makeni which took us three hours to travel to by car. We were introduced to the team and told us about the kind of work each member did. The next day we went out and visited a couple of places in Makeni, including the university which we were shown around; we saw the hospital, where we were shown some of the wards, the physiotherapy unit and the pharmacy.

After this I went with Ben and Usman to visit the community where we were staying later in the trip. We met the locals who immediately made us feel welcome and the children were really intrigued by our presence. They lived in families of eight or nine in their huts and some of the men had more than one wife. We were shown the chickens they keep and were told that some of the chickens had died due to disease. The vet, however, is on the case so hopefully once the chickens have the right amount of vaccine the project will be up and running again.

The next day we saw three other communities, two of which had started building outdoor huts but have yet to finish them. Robert from Caritas tried to motivate the communities so that they could finish the buildings and have and have the confidence to go on and start other projects by themselves; they now have skills which will last a lifetime’ it is really rewarding to see these projects firsthand and to see how CAFOD’s efforts have paid off.

Saturday 18th– Wednesday 22nd January

On Saturday we visited one of the local farms and saw how the workers collected the rice by pounding it out of the straw. We went for a walk on the farm and saw all of the different vegetables that were being grown. The next day we had mass at Church and had to go up to the front after mass to introduce ourselves. We had a meeting with the Catholic Youth Organisation who told us all of the different challenges they face so that we had more of an idea about the aspects they needed most help with, such as education. That afternoon we visited Bombana waterfall which cascaded down into the river, a colourful rainbow spanning from the fall to the river.

The next day we visited Rafenka village in what was to be our immersion experience. Once there we were greeted by everyone and given local names; mine was Yeanor. After, we were taken to the next village to watch the traditional dancing. Some of the girls were being initiated so they were all in costume. We headed back to eat and played football with the children. We even got the chance to take part in the villager’s own traditional dancing.

The next day we did some teaching in the village school. I had my class write letters in return to the children from St. Anne’s in Manchester. When we got back we were taken to the farm and watched the traditional methods they used to farm, and tried our hands at these ourselves. At lunchtime we saw one of the villagers climb the nearest palm tree like a monkey, and drop some coconuts down for us so that we could drink the milk from the middle, which tasted sweet.

After, we saw how the locals fished. They put their net beneath the surface of the water in a stream and the children ran through the water in the opposite direction of the net to urge the fish to swim into it, which they did. They made it look easy! In the evening we played a game of football but the men were very fast and I got wacked in the arm by the football. We had a meeting with the locals after and learnt a bit more about their community; the women too had a rare chance to voice their opinions.

The next day we watched the women cooking in the traditional way over the fire outside; we got to eat the fruits of their labour; rice with sauce and cassava. Soon it was time to say goodbye to our new friends; I said a farewell speech from all of us and then we had a big photograph taken with everyone in it before heading off to our hotel. It was an experience we will never forget.

Thursday 23rd– Sunday 26th January

On Thursday we visited the university in Makeni and had a look around the law department. We were introduced to a few staff members and some students and then we were taken around the president’s house at the top of the hill. After lunch we got the chance to visit a HIV clinic and ask a few burning questions; it was great to see what work was being done to help those already suffering with the disease and prevent it from happening to others. The clinic took a holistic approach, trying to educate people more about the disease and reducing the stigma surrounding sufferers.

The next day we went to visit a few other projects CAFOD had set up in the area. One was a scrap metal project where the locals from difficult circumstances came to create things out of the recycled metal to sell and make a profit. After this we went t visit the hairdressers where we were told all about the new trainees who were working towards becoming qualified hairdressers.

After our visit we went further into town to have our measurements taken so that we could have traditional African dresses made (for the girls, that is).  Then we went to another shop where we picked our favourite materials and went back to the tailors to have them made into dresses.

The next day we headed off to Kenema and met a few of the people from the Caritas Kenema office. Then we searched about to find a decent hotel to stay for the next ten days.

On our first day in Kenema we went to mass at the church wearing our traditional dress, so we fitted in with the local women. After mass we were invited to mass with the bishop and we talked to him about some of the ethical issues in Sierra Leone over lunch, which was delicious. We are going to see the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Food security tomorrow.

More news from Emily soon. If you are aged 18-30 (or know someone who is) and want to explore and express your faith with CAFOD’s Step into the Gap programme, then follow the link below. You’ll have the chance to volunteer in the UK and overseas, experiencing new cultures and meeting inspiring people along the way:

http://www.cafod.org.uk/Education/CAFOD-Gap-year

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