Step into the Gap 2013 – Sierra Leone

IMG_1197Every year CAFOD, in partnership with the Society for the Holy Child Jesus and UK partners give young people an exciting opportunity by taking part in Step into the Gap.

It offers a programme for leadership development during the year providing a rounded experience both overseas and in the UK. It allows participants to explore and express their faith and develop their leadership skills while bringing about a more just world.        It bridges the ‘gap’ between elements of adventure and service that occur in traditional year out experiences.

This year, I have been fortunate in securing an opportunity to accompany the group of young adults on their overseas visit to Sierra Leone from 23rd February until 21st March. The group of eight young people are currently on placement in Arundel and Brighton, Hexham and Newcastle, Salford and Lancaster dioceses. At the end of last year we spent two days with each other and had a briefing learning about Sierra Leone and its history as well as giving us the opportunity to get to know each other a little. We had a security briefing which highlighted ways in which to travel and stay safe during our visit. We are currently making our own personal preparations and getting the necessary vaccinations and travel documents.

CAFOD have an office in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city, which is where we will arrive at Lungi airport.  We will have a few days of orientation and briefings with the ‘in-country’ staff, before we split into two groups, each with a group leader, my colleague Denise Grierson, who is CAFOD’s Diocesan Manager in Brentwood  and myself.  We will travel to meet our partners, Caritas Makeni and Caritas Kenema, where we will spend up to three weeks. Both of these partners are beginning new projects, so we will be the first visitors to learn about the work they are engaged in and Sierra Leone is a new country which gappers will visit.

Sierra Leone, in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world and is ranked among the lowest ten on the United Nations Development Index. It emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002 with the help of Britain, the former colonial power and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission. More than 17,000 foreign troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters. A decade on the country has made progress towards reconciliation but poverty and unemployment are still major challenges. A lasting feature of the war, in which tens of thousands died, were the atrocities committed by the rebels, whose trademark was to hack off the hands or feet of their victims.

Sierra Leone is known for the trade in ‘blood diamonds’ which helped to fund the long civil war, but it is also rich in Rutile, which is a mineral composed primarily of titanium dioxide, Ti02 and has many uses including being used in the manufacture of sunscreens, paints, plastic, paper and foods. Other exports include cocoa, coffee and fish.

I am told it is also a very beautiful country, with miles of unspoilt beaches along its Atlantic coast. ‘Freetown’ is twinned with Hull in our diocese and was named for being the place where returned slaves landed back on African soil following the Abolition of Slavery. I look forward to sharing more about our experiences with you following our return in March. In the meanwhile, keep us in your prayers!

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