“You changed my life,” Thomas Awiapo to students involved in CRS Rice Bowl
By Deborah Manog
“You changed my life,” Thomas Awiapo boldly blurted into the microphone, “you changed my story.”
Wide, youthful eyes of students from Holy Family Catholic Academy locked onto him as he raised an oddly-shaped cardboard box into the air, displaying the words “CRS Rice Bowl.”
“This is the best gift I ever received and I’m glad to come back and say thank you,” Awiapo said with a smile.
Awiapo was born in Ghana, West Africa where he had never seen running water from a tap and food was scarce. His parents and two of his younger brothers died while he was just a young boy and eventually his older brother left the village in search of food, never to be seen again. Awiapo probably would have died from starvation himself, had it not been for the school built by Catholic Relief Services.
Although Awiapo initially hated school, he said he was “tricked” into getting an education because the teachers offered snacks to students.
“If you wanted a snack, you were sentenced to hours of class,” Awiapo said.
So every day he walked five miles to the school and back to his village. He learned to love school eventually won scholarships to attend college and later earn a master’s degree from California State University. Today, he sees education as liberation and one of the best tools to break down injustices in the world.
“That little snack saved my life,” he said.
Once again, he raised the cardboard donation box above his head and said “this is where my little snack came from.”
Last year, 19 Hawaii Catholic Schools that participated in the 2016 Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Lenten Rice Bowl, raised over $25,000. The donations were distributed to both local and international aid programs focusing on eliminating hunger and poverty.
Today, Awiapo pays forward the kindness that he received as an indirect result of the CRS Rice Bowl donations, by working for Catholic Relief Services in Ghana. In October 2016, he visited several schools and parishes, including St. Theresa School, Sacred Hearts Academy, Maryknoll and Holy Family Catholic Academy to share his story of survival, hope and gratitude.