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.

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.

CAFOD Gappers alongside their interpreter for their first week, Signha former director of CAFOD Partner Village Support Group.

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.

Prayers and representations of our CAFOD sharing across this year.

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.

CAFOD Gappers for 2016-2017 in Oxford

James tells us about his upcoming trip to Cambodia

James Ronan is taking part in the CAFOD Step into the Gap programme. He tells us about his year so far and expectations for visiting Cambodia.

James Ronan

James Ronan










For the first term of the Step into the Gap programme, I have been based at St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Blackpool. It has been a really exciting! In October, the chaplaincy team Brightened Up for Harvest with a week of fundraising, which culminated in a Staff Talent Show. Later on that month, I helped organise a sixth form Climate Change Debate with two local MPs, Paul Maynard and Gordon Marsden, for the CAFOD Speak Up Week of Action. In November, we held our Act of Kindness week, this coincided with having the pilgrim statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in school, for the end of the Year of Mercy.

This month, I have the incredible opportunity to visit Cambodia and see the work of CAFOD’s partner organisations, helping our Cambodian brothers and sisters to build God’s kingdom here on Earth.

James and Hannah from our Step Into the Gap programme

James and Hannah from our Step Into the Gap programme









I researched CAFOD’s projects in Cambodia. During this time, I learnt about cultural similarities and differences between the UK and Cambodia. I shared what I learnt with pupils at Christ the King Primary School, in Year 5 and Year 6. The pupils were very enthusiastic to hear the CAFOD story about a boy called Butterfly. They engaged with the story and were keen to discover the cultural and development similarities and differences between the UK and Cambodia.

I am excited about revisiting the school when I come back, to share what I have experienced in Cambodia and the important human stories of CAFOD’s work in the country.

I am eager to experience Cambodian culture, meeting different people, tasting their food, seeing amazing landscapes and wildlife. Most of all I am excited to be visiting CAFOD partners and witnessing the impact they have made in country.

I have never learnt a second language before. This trip has inspired me to learn Khmer, a dialect spoken in the areas of Cambodia that I will be visiting. I have started watching YouTube videos to try and learn phrases, to connect with the people I will be visiting, which I think is important.

I will be visiting a variety of projects, including water and sanitation projects (WASH), and Sre Khmer a Cambodian agricultural NGO, as well as a Village Support Group. I will have the opportunity to live in solidarity with Cambodians, walking with them in their daily lives.

Step Into the Gap participants, who will be travelling to Cambodia

Step Into the Gap participants, who will be travelling to Cambodia

I also look forward to sharing messages from parishes, which are being sent to Cambodia through CAFOD’s Cambodian Connect2 project. Local parishioners have a global impact, I’m really looking forward to seeing the impact that CAFOD supporters have made in Cambodia.

I look forward to sharing the important stories of CAFOD’s work with the Catholic community here in England and Wales on my return and inspiring others to put their faith into action. I am now based within the Clifton Diocese, so am keen to share my experiences with local parishes here, in particular.


Fiona, who is currently completing a gap year with Step into the Gap, shares her experiences in Peru and how she brought a little bit of Peru back to Bedminster for Lent.

180116 children with gappers

On Sunday 14th February, Holy Cross Bedminster’s CAFOD group banded together to host a Peru-themed Lent Fast Day fundraiser at the end of Sunday Mass. This was inspired by parishioner and CAFOD ‘Step into the Gap’ Gapper Fiona Sim who spent time with five of CAFOD’s partners in Peru.

Fiona and fellow Gappers Bea, Michelle, and Alice, actually had the opportunity to spend a day with the women of Sweet Temptations—a women’s food co-operative supported by CAFOD’s partner Solidaridad.

They got involved with the baking and cooking in the morning. In the afternoon, they set off to accompany one of the women to a marketplace where she sold her freshly made empanadas con pollo and keke naranja (chicken empanadas and orange cake).

They got to learn a lot about the lives of the women and how Solidaridad has had a significant impact on their lives. Solidaridad provides training in some of the poorer communities in Lima to develop business skills, cooking skills, and even self-esteem in women. We learned that this empowers the women to manage their own businesses and become financially independent so that they are able to make a living for themselves.

As a result, each member of the CAFOD group took on a Peruvian dish in solidarity with the women of Sweet Temptations. The group was sure to try and make the dishes as authentic as possible by following recipes used by Sweet Temptations themselves. There was everything from empanadas to corn biscuits to local Peruvian tea called Herba Luisa.

I spoke to Margaret Webb, a parishioner at Holy Cross, who said:

“I have been involved with CAFOD for 20 years. I have been doing fast days for just as long – we have grown over the years, we have a CAFOD table in church. We are a small parish and last year we collected over £1000.

“I like how CAFOD uses local agencies. They are talking to agencies who say what they need and it goes straight to them, there is nothing wasted. Fiona spoke on the weekend and talked about Peru – everyone clapped at the end.

“Normally we have soup and a roll, this year, Fiona who has done a gap year and has just got back from Peru has brought back some recipes so we are opening up a Peruvian Kitchen.

“They are not rich recipes – I made these biscuits – sugar, flour butter and milk and I am making them ready for Sunday. Then someone is making cheese twists, and someone is making a big cake. We are holding the Peruvian Lunch after Mass and we hope to increase the number of people that stay so we can increase the donations we send to CAFOD – it is a different way of celebrating.”

peruvian lent lunch2peruvian lent lunch







The parish was buzzing with energy and curiosity over the event, and everyone dug in to try the homemade Peruvian foods. It was a great fundraising event that helped to raise awareness of the work that CAFOD supports in countries like Peru.


Donate to the Lent appeal: