Today, Thomas Awiapo is the proud father of four children who works with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as a consultant and speaker. As a speaker, he shares the story of his childhood in a small African village where he was orphaned before the age of 10 and lost his two younger brothers from malnutrition. Last month he explained how the narrative of his life was altered by the CRS Ghana Program to the all-girls student body of Cornelia Connelly High School and other members of the community.
“I hated school. I did not like school, but they tricked me to go to that little school,” Thomas recalled about his first encounter with CRS. “You see, every morning Catholic Relief Services provided me a snack—just a little snack at that village school for every child who came there. I loved the snack, but I did not love the school.”
“I did not go there for school. I went there because I was hungry, but they kept fixing that little snack every day, so I kept going just for that little snack,” he continued with a smile. “Today, I am standing here, joyfully still alive, holding a masters in public administration and for fifteen years, I have worked for Catholic Relief Services in Ghana. Guess what I do?
I trick children into going to school now, too.”
The impact of CRS Rice Bowls in our country and across the world is undeniable. Not only is Thomas Awiapo living proof of the program’s effectiveness, but since its beginning, more than $250 million has gone toward battling hunger and poverty around the globe, with $62.5 million aiding domestic programs and $187.5 million funding programs overseas.
In his speech, Thomas strived to convey the magnitude of the widespread impact that a simple donation can make and asked the girls to put themselves in his shoes. “Imagine the power of that snack in the life of a hungry child,” he said. “For me, that little snack was the greatest gift that I had ever received in my life and today, my life is no longer the same.”
“The most gratifying part of my work is to be able to share my painful story to possibly move some hearts and minds to action so that fewer people go through what I experienced,” he said in response to why he continues to revisit such a difficult time in his life. “I want the audience to feel how blessed they are. Some take for granted that they have parents, that they have clean water, that they have an education, but when you hear about someone who has a past where those things cannot be taken for granted, there is a newfound sense of gratitude and appreciation that pushes you to help somebody else.”
To the young audience, Thomas Awiapo bestowed some final words of advice: “Next time you get those little bowls, remember that behind those cardboard boxes are real people with real faces. Jesus healed 10 lepers and one came back to say thank you. I am not just the one leper who has come back, but I also represent each of those nine lepers across the world, across the hundred countries CRS works in, whose lives have been touched through your support. They can not all make it here, so on their behalf, I say thank you.”