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.
The time has come to say farewell to Blackpool and St Mary’s Catholic Academy. What an incredible year! Moving from rural Devon to Blackpool as a CAFOD volunteer, has been the biggest step in my life so far. Arriving at the Gap in Blackpool meant moving to a new area, not knowing anybody and starting a new life. The year has all worked out well with so many amazing experiences. I have made new friends and met many inspiring people,most notably in Cambodia with my fellow CAFOD gappers.
This year, it has been great to be able to share CAFOD’s work this year by working in the Diocese of Lancaster whilst living in the Presbytery as part of the parish at St John Vianney. I was an absolute joy to work at St Mary’s as part of the chaplaincy team; I have been left with many fond memories of the team and the work we have achieved this year. Highlights included the co-organisation, in October 2016, of the 6th form Climate debate as part of CAFOD’s Speak Up campaign with our guest MPs Paul Maynard (Conservative Party member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys) and Gordon Marsden (Labour Party member for Blackpool South). I also led sessions with Year 7 pupils about the Refugee crisis the significance of the Lampedusa cross. In conjunction with the Chaplaincy Team I presented assemblies to college forms when we discussed Justice January and CAFOD’s renewable energy campaign Power to Be.
Visiting Cambodia visit in January heightened my understanding of CAFOD’s work overseas. Whilst in Devon I had fundraised a lot for CAFOD (over £7,000) without fully understanding the impact such fundraising was having. Seeing at first-hand the difference fundraising had made over the years has heightened and affirmed my view of the impact made in Cambodia by CAFOD engendered community support in England and Wales.
I will never lose my 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 with whom we spent time.
Following 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 with whom I spent time in Cambodia. In May I visited the CAFOD Plymouth Schools Volunteers to share about my Cambodia experiences which I later also shared with parishioners after Mass at my former parish church in Tavistock.
As well as sharing my CAFOD Step into the Gap experiences this year with students, parishioners and CAFOD volunteers, I have also shared my CAFOD gap year work experiences with British and American Actors. In May I shared my CAFOD gap year experiences with actress Hannah Spearritt (S Club 7) and actor Andrew-Lee Potts (from ITVs Primeval) at a comic convention in Huddersfield. In June, I shared with British actor Paul Blackthorne (TV show Arrow) and American actress Danielle Panabaker (TV show The Flash) at a convention in Blackpool; so it has been a fantastic year of sharing and talking about CAFOD’s work with others and relating the important stories of the Cambodian people I met and my work as a CAFOD Gapper at St Mary’s.
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. All of us Gappers went out for a meal on the Friday evening which was a good opportunity to catch up about our CAFOD work and share experiences.