BY James Farrell | May 4 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


From Castlebay to Cambodia

James Farrell joins SCIAF as the charity speaks to Scotland’s fishermen about its work in Asia

The last part of my journey to Barra, although the shortest, caused the most trouble. With no more information than that I was staying in ‘Donnie the fisherman’s caravan outside Castlebay,’ I asked Katy, a local working in a hotel, if she could help me to get a taxi.

After a few minutes’ discussion about who Donnie could be, Katy had a light bulb moment. “Ah, Bones! I only know him by his nickname.” She promptly offered to give me a lift; it was no problem at all.

That was the initial welcome to a stranger on the Isle of Barra and it was one that was continuously displayed by many of the inhabitants of the island.

So much so that the ‘warmth and hospitality’ of the island communities of the Outer Hebrides convinced SCIAF director Alastair Dutton that the Catholic aid agency needs ‘to be spending more time with communities throughout Scotland.’

I joined Mr Dutton as he toured the Isles of Barra, Vatersay, North and South Uist, Benbecula and Eriskay this past week to thank the local Catholic communities for their efforts in assisting SCIAF this Lent.

On the islands he managed to visit a number of schools, parishes, fishermen and fishing companies in a bid to raise awareness of where the, pound-for-pound government matched, Wee Box fund is heading before its May 8 deadline.

By talking to the local fishing communities on the Isles he was able to see how their expertise in Scotland could be used to further improve the lives of the fishing communities like that of the Lang family in Cambodia who SCIAF have assisted in the past year.

Like the Wee Box itself, the SCIAF director’s trip had double the impact.

Mr Dutton told parishes there that ‘first and foremost I’m here really to say thank you to you all, thank you for your support to SCIAF every year, year in year out.’

He then used the image of the ‘one vine’ from that day’s Gospel to express how connected the community in Barra was with the people of Cambodia and the 14 other countries around the world SCIAF help. “We are the branches and the branches reach out all around the world, in that one vine that knits us altogether as one human family,” he said.

He stated that the money donated to SCIAF was like the ‘sap’ of the vine that spreads out around the world and gives energy to SCIAF to allow people like the Lang family ‘to grow and ripen.’

When asked about the locals, who he said ‘threw their doors open’ to him, Mr Dutton said that he was struck by ‘the clear commitment from lots of people on the Isles for SCIAF and SCIAF’s work and for people around the world who are less fortunate than ourselves.’

“It was really good to spend the time with those communities, they are really important to us, we need to be spending more time with communities throughout Scotland, just spending time face-to-face with people building those relationships.”

The relationships built on the islands strengthened the connections between two fishing communities which may seem worlds apart but have plenty in common.

The people of rural Cambodia rely on the fish they catch to survive, while many on the Outer Hebrides depend on fishing for their livelihood—whether small, independent fishermen or those who work for processing firms like that of Barratlantic, one of the largest employers on Barra.

Local independent fishermen Donnie Maclean is an example of the first stage of the supply chain. He catches shellfish like crab and lobster, and his catch often ends up on the plates of our Scottish seminarians in Salamanca, Spain. The majority of all outer Hebridean shellfish is destined for Spain. Mr Maclean ‘enjoyed’ hearing of SCIAF’s work and ‘different fishing techniques’ used by the people helped by the charity.

The journey of his shellfish from Barra to the plate helps illuminate the developments that are still to be made in Cambodia, where SCIAF funds legal training for villagers in how to take ownership of a stretch of river, allowing their prospects to improve from short term ‘survive’ to a longer term ‘thrive.’

“We always look at improving the level of production, how can they improve the yield of the land or how can they sustainably get more fish,” Mr Dutton said. “How do you catch it, land it, store it, preserve it, add value to it, get it to market, get a decent price for it, that whole supply chain, is something we work on.”

“And alongside that we’ll look at the whole financing of it. So we look at how to allow them to save when they have got money and then to borrow at times when they need to invest or tide themselves through to when they can get the next product to sell.”

As well as the monetary support given to SCIAF and the shared experience of the fishing communities, Mr Dutton praised the spiritual help given by the Catholic communities on the Islands.

Mr Dutton also joined the Catholic communities at Mass and at the Rosary on the Coast. “Probably the most important thing you do is praying for SCIAF, not just for us as an organisation but for the people we serve,” he told those gathered. “Very often when I’m travelling people will come up to me and say, please go back to Scotland and thank the people who helped us, we know we’re not forgotten. It’s interesting that the bit they concentrate on is that they are not forgotten. Often, in the worst of times, knowing that you’re not forgotten is the most precious thing of all.”

– Donate to SCIAF before May 8 to make sure the UK government doubles your donations. To find out more visit or call 0141 354 5555


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