Ghanaian who works with CRS to visit parishes, schools

The Catholic Relief Services Speaker Tour will come to four locations in the Diocese of Camden later this month to educate local Catholics about worldwide issues of hunger and food security.

Thomas Awiapo, a Global Solidarity Coordinator with CRS Ghana, will share his story.

As an orphan in the village of Wiaga, Ghana, young Thomas survived by begging and becoming a child laborer. He would move from farm to farm, offering to work for food.

He had never even considered going to school. The idea was beyond his world — until he heard that students got lunch. School was for him, he decided.

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, provided the food that drew Awiapo. He sat through classes mostly for the meal of wheat and sorghum cereal and milk powder.

“The crux of the matter is that if there had not been that snack at school, which was paid for by Catholic children and adults from the U.S., my life would have been much different,” Awiapo told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Portland Archdiocese in 2006. “I am grateful for their sacrifices.”

His village received help from CRS’ Operation Rice Bowl. During Lent, Operation Rice Bowl participants pledge to pray, fast in solidarity with those around the world who suffer from hunger, learn about the global community and the challenges of poverty overseas, and give sacrificial contributions to those in need.

Nourishment and school put Awiapo on an educational path that took him on to high school and junior college and eventually led him to begin teaching.

Today Awiapo works for CRS in the northern Ghanaian city of Tamale, and he recently toured U.S. cities on behalf of CRS and Operation Rice Bowl.

Now, it is part of his job to make sure schools in Ghana get food for lunches and snacks. He also trains community leaders throughout Ghana. Co-workers laud him for his “joyful presence.”

He knows many others from his village who went to school — because of the promise of a meal — and have since succeeded in life.

Awiapo was born in northern Ghana around 1969, though he’s not exactly sure when. What he knows for sure is that his parents died when he was young, age 9 or so. He does not know what disease took his parents, but he recalls them in their sickbeds. He remembers appealing to the ancestors through animal sacrifices, and then came the day he felt he was on his own in the world.

After his parents died, he lived with distant relatives. He got one small meal per day, at best. He has never forgotten the fear that went with going to bed hungry.

He had three brothers. Two died and the eldest went missing.

It was about three years after his parents’ death that he saw troops of happy children headed to school and he made the decision to join them.

Young Thomas was bright, and the Missionaries of Africa (once known as the White Fathers) who ran the school took notice.

One priest whom Awiapo recalled fondly gave him sandals and extra food. “They stepped in and made life better for me,” he said.

As he entered adolescence, he accepted the missionaries’ offer of courses in Christianity, and they asked him to take an exam that qualified him to attend a Catholic high school.

After high school, he went to junior college on scholarships. Then he went back to teach at his alma mater.

He thrived as a student and teacher, but had to wrestle with his past. “I had a feeling,” he said. “I was not very happy with God. Sometimes I said, ‘Why me?’ and I missed (my) parents.”

With the help of a good spiritual director, his anger subsided.

He went to the seminary for a number of years and then came to the United States to complete a master’s degree in public administration.

Awiapo will speak on Thursday, Jan. 28 at Holy Spirit High School, Absecon at 8:45 a.m.; later that night at Christ Our Light Parish, Cherry Hill, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Jan. 29, St. Peter Elementary School, Merchantville, time TBD; and later that night at St. Mary Parish, Cherry Hill, 7 p.m.

Contributing to this story was Catholic News Service.

Categories: Latest News

About Author