Eleanor is one of the students taking part of CAFOD’s step into the gap programme. She has spent six months in the UK on a placement based at Cardinal Newman School in Hove, but on the 11th January she flew out to Sierra Leone!
Of her UK placement Eleanor said, “Since the beginning of my placement, I have said assemblies to hundreds of students when I could barely stand up and talk in front of 10 people before and have taken the initiative to talk to complete strangers when I am painfully shy. I have found the CAFOD gapper community hugely important; the support I am getting from people all across the country is integral to my survival!”
We have been updated on Eleanor’s progress in Sierra Leone, read about it below!
After a short stay in the capital, Freetown, the gappers travelled to Makeni in the Northern Province. They had inductions and then visited a small community called Mabamba about 20-30 miles away from Makeni.
They were taken to Mabamba by Caritas Makeni, a CAFOD partner, to see the progress of the Livelihood project which sees communities given the skills and resources to sustainably build and maintain large chicken coups (of 400 to 500 chickens). Caritas Makeni work really hard alongside the communities to help make this project work. Currently, most communities are at the stage of constructing the coup itself but looking to move in the first chickens in the next couple of weeks.
This was their first experience of a real Sierra Leonean community. The village is made up of a selection of traditional round, thatched mud huts as well as more modern rectangle buildings with corrugated iron roofs. Eleanor said that the sound of the village was filled with bleating and clucking, which made a welcome change from the continuous engines and car horns they had been hearing in the cities.
Their visit coincided with the return of village children from school who were curious but shy until the gappers brought out the CAFOD football! Eleanor said “the moment Neal pulled out his football was a truly magical one as I saw the children’s eyes light up!”
The time spent with Caritas Makeni was enjoyed by the gappers part of it involved a three-day stay in the rural community of Rufenka. Two nights were spent with a family in Rufenka with Eleanor, Julia and Emily sharing one bed in a room riddled with creepy crawlies! Eleanor said “humble is an understatement. I will never forget the experience. It felt like I was living someone else’s life; how was I, a very average 21-year-old, living in a traditional community, eating fresh fruit just off the tree and sleeping in a mud hut?” In the evenings the group got to experience local dancing and had a great time.
The days were spent experiencing some of the ways which the community support themselves involving a visit to the rice plantation and the opportunity to watch the locals fish at the fishpond. They also got involved with working in the local primary school making bracelets and letters to send back to Cardinal Newman Year 7s in the UK in a simple and hopefully effective way of linking two communities of children together across the world.
The week began with mass at St Paul’s Cathedral wearing freshly made African outfits and then they returned to Kenema city to relax.
The gappers had the amazing opportunity on Friday to go to Tiwai Island, in the Gola Rainforest in South-east Sierra Leone. Eleanor said “this has been a real highlight for me because we saw so much wildlife that I never dreamed of seeing! Wandering around the island, it was clear that this place is truly a gem of Sierra Leone that needs looking after. It’s completely unspoiled, inhabited only by a small team of researchers who are working hard to preserve the many primates, butterflies and birds that inhabit the 12skm space.”
There is just one week left until the gappers return home so we are all excited to find out what else Eleanor has been up to in Sierra Leone!