James Ronan

"I graduated with a degree in Geography in 2016 and also completed 784 hours of volunteering work. I always wanted to do a gap year after University as I wanted a break from studying, to do something completely new whilst also learning more about global justice issues, poverty, development and climate change, seeing what I learned in my Geography degree in practice.

Previously I had done a lot of fundraising and campaigning for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) and I decided to apply for CAFOD’s gap year programme Step into the GAP. CAFOD’s gap year scheme is an opportunity to volunteer in the UK, gain experience, develop leadership skills and visit an international CAFOD partner. As a participant you live and work in one of CAFOD’s UK placements for an academic year, learning more about yourself, your faith and the world we live in whilst inspiring others to make a difference. This year I was based at St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Blackpool, working as part of the chaplaincy team getting students involved in CAFOD’s work.

In January I had the amazing opportunity to spend two and half weeks in Cambodia alongside three other CAFOD gappers and a CAFOD member of staff. It was an amazing experience to be able to spend time with families in rural villages in Cambodia and see first-hand developments focusing on issues of climate change, access to clean water, sanitation as well as gender empowerment and education work. We spent time with two of CAFOD’s partners Village Support Group and Srer Khmer, who work in partnership with CAFOD and the rural Cambodian communities enabling empowerment. CAFOD has been working in Cambodia since 1980 and continues to support vulnerable groups by enabling indigenous people to access land titles, protect their forests and to increase their food supply and income through organic farming. The charity also works with local organisations to support women to influence, and become involved in, local government.

On my return to the UK after the overseas visit my time has been spent sharing the important stories of the people I met and sharing the impact of CAFOD’s work through presentations, talks and workshops to students and parishioners across Lancaster, Somerset and Devon. I hope to be able to use the experience gained this year on Step into the GAP in a future career in a Catholic Diocese or working for a charity in the development sector."