From Nicaragua to Newcastle

Three overseas visitors came to Newcastle to share information about the vital work they carry out in some of the world’s poorest countries, that your generous donations have helped to fund. 


Moise, Kelechi and Winston talking to CAFOD supporters

Moise Liboto Makuta, Kelechi Emeh and Winston Berrios spoke of their experiences in Niger, Nigeria and Nicaragua respectively.

The trio all work as Overseas Programme Officers for CAFOD.

Niger suffers from regular droughts and suffered a severe food crisis in 2012 which affected five million people.

In Nigeria,  work focuses on peace building and humanitarian assistance, among other areas. In Nicaragua, work includes improving housing, water, nutrition and education.

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One week back in “Normality” Chris’ early reflections on Nicaragua


Chris with children at the Sisters of the Guardian Angels in Managua

Chris with children at the Sisters of the Guardian Angels in Managua

Before Chris returned to the hustle and bustle of life at the Youth Mission Team near Consett, we asked him a few questions about his time in Nicaragua.

Just nine questions for now, although we’re sure that we’ll get to hear a lot more about his adventures and the people he met.

1)      What were your expectations before the trip?

I didn’t realise I had any expectations of the trip until they were all shattered during and after the trip. I realised my expectations were that CAFOD were involved in helping people up. Although I knew CAFOD’s mentality was working with partners, I hadn’t quite given up the mentality of CAFOD being the saviour rather than the partner. My expectation was to see CAFOD going in and sorting out the problem.

2)      How was the journey there?

I cannot complain about the journey except for how early we started out on it!

3)      Your first impressions?

My first two impressions were how hot it was and how absurd the place was. The heat was self-evident, the air was heavy with evening heat when we arrived. What made the place seem slightly absurd were these large metal and illuminated “tree(s) of life” down the centre of the road every 100m or so. We were told by our driver that each tree cost around $18,000 and it seemed so unnecessary and absurd when poverty was so evident in certain places of the city.

4)      How were the accommodation and the food?

We changed accommodation several times throughout the trip and in all of them I slept soundly. The only two times I could raise a complaint was having a cold shower in the mountainous region of Nicaragua- I really did not like them – and when a very large spider appeared on my wall one night. The food was delicious! No complaints there.

5)      Highlight of the trip?

Now having a highlight of the trip is hard. If I was to say the moment I was happiest during the trip it would be while playing games with the children who attended the Sister of the Guardian Angel canteen in Managua. These children transformed from shy strangers into delighted friends but only after realising that although we looked so different, we also wanted to have fun.

6)      Lows of the trip?

I think the biggest low I had was experiencing the desperation in the children beggars. I must press this was not a common experience in Nicaragua.

7)      Tell me one story that you’ll always remember.

I was talking to this 11 year old boy called Josue. He was small, softly spoken and thoughtful. And I remember asking him “If you could give one message to those back in England what would you give?” To which he replied “Be good kids, do your best, study and believe in God.” So I asked “Why believe in God Josue?” So he said “He can help you in your difficulties. I know God loves me because he is always with me.” To which another of the CAFOD team chipped in “Where do you see God in the world?” And I will never forget this reply from an 11 year old boy. “He is in my heart. I feel loved, appreciated and valued by Him.” That is one of the many stories I will never forget.

8)      What reflections do you have on the trip now?

One reflection I have on my trip is how noble the people we met in Nicaragua were. They seemed to have a strength that drove them to strive on for their children, for their spouses, for their God. Never ceasing, always enduring and forever trusting. There was such love there, a real knowledge of themselves and what is most important in their lives.

9)      What would you say to other people who might be thinking of applying to Step into the GAP?

If I was speaking to myself before this year, I would say “Do it now, thank me later!” But to others who are thinking of applying I would say “If you are open to a life changing experience, apply now!”


There’s more details about CAFOD’s Step into the Gap programme go here BUT you’ll need to be really quick as today at 10pm, applications close and you’ll have to wait another year to get on!

Gap year volunteers prepare for overseas visits with CAFOD

Chris and Mary will fly to Nicaragua and Zimbabwe this week

Chris and Mary will fly to Nicaragua and Zimbabwe this week

In a few days’ time, our intrepid gap year volunteers, Mary and Chris, set off on their journeys to Nicaragua and Zimbabwe.

But this will be no holiday for them. In both countries they will see the work of CAFOD partners as they work on the ground. Chris and Mary, along with the other members of the Step into the Gap Team, have been working with young people in this country to share their faith in different settings.

Find out more about Step into the Gap

Just before they had finished packing, John dropped in to see them at the Hexham & Newcastle Youth Village just outside Consett.

Mary flies from London to Dubai then on to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Chris heads in the opposite direction, leaving London to cross the Atlantic to Miami before flying to Managua in Nicaragua.

They are both fully aware that accommodation won’t be five-star (and the flights aren’t First Class either) – Chris will be putting his sleeping bag and mosquito net to use on some nights!

Mary will visit programmes which are focused on making sure communities have enough food to eat and are able to make a living. She will also be visiting projects which help people living with HIV/AIDS.

Meanwhile in Nicaragua, Chris and his colleagues will be travelling to meet partners who help women farmers to develop technical skills, and other groups which train communities in the steps to take in the event of an emergency such as volcanoes or earthquakes. As with any trip abroad, there will be many more adventures that don’t appear on the itinerary.

So what of their personal feelings prior to the trip? Both admitted to wanting to avoid any illness. More to not wanting to miss out, than anything life-threatening. With a limited time in each country, the last thing either want to be doing is to be out of action, even for a day. Mary is a vegetarian and this can be seen as out of the ordinary in some cultures.

Both have visited countries in the global south before, so they might be thought to be more prepared than most for what they’ll find. It’ll be interesting to see how their previous experiences colour what they’ll see on this trip.

As far as other preparations go, they have both read the Lonely Planet guides to the respective countries, got their inoculations and mosquito nets. They are raring to go!

We are hoping to get some blogs from Zimbabwe and Nicaragua dependent upon having all the technology lined up, so we’ll post anything we get as soon as it arrives.

Stay tuned…

Applications for Step into the Gap are open now!