This year I have been working at St Mary’s Catholic College Blackpool as a ‘gaplin’ with Christine. A ‘Gaplin’ is a gap-year chaplain in a programme organised by CAFOD and the Holy Child Jesus sisters in collaboration with the parishes and schools in Blackpool. It has been an amazing experience assisting the chaplaincy team at St Mary’s, leading assemblies and liturgies, and talking and supporting the young people. Part of the year’s programme was to go to Ghana to experience the work of the Holy Child Sisters who work as teachers and midwives. Before heading out to Ghana, I was apprehensive as I had no idea what it was going to be like. To prepare we had quite a few meetings with CAFOD, prayed mad about it, and got lots of injections. And then the day arrived. Any reservations left me as soon as I met the people we stayed with and how welcome we were made to feel. Everyone was so open with us and we were made to feel part of their community even before they knew us. All the children came to talk to us – I could not believe how they had so little but seemed so happy. We worked in the schools throughout the whole time and we spent a lot of time talking about our different ways of life. We spent quite a lot of time interviewing different people so that we could share their stories when we returned home. They all wanted to be interviewed, so we had literally millions and millions of interviews to work through. One of the things we
found out was that the children were so eager for education and most of them had jobs before and after school to pay for their education. The children would help their parents set up their stalls in the market or would sell fruit themselves from the roadsides, or fix people’s shoes… all just to get a few coins to pay for their school. I found the children so eager to learn, desperate to find out anything and everything, especially when it regarded football! In fact, it was the African Cup of Nations whilst we were out there and the whole country was in a state of football fever, screaming and waving chairs in the air! One thing which struck me was the amount of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in Ghana. Staying with the HCJ sisters,
we visited their novitiate house and it was inspiring to speak to so many young women who so loved their faith and had such a desire to share it with us. We also went to the seminary where we found hundreds of young men. Generally speaking, I couldn’t believe how strong faith was amongst the people, even when they face such struggles. Sometimes the Masses were two hours long, with Gospel choirs and everyone dancing everywhere! Coming back to England feels a bit like a let-down. Overall, I feel I have gained not only experience but a deeper understanding of the world and the difference in cultures, and would return straight away if I could. Because I have received so much, I want to be able to share all that I have learnt with anyone and everyone who will listen, and somehow bring some of the joy and faith that they
lived into our world.