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placeholder April 17, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 8    •   Oakland, CA

Thomas Awiapo explains the cardboard Rice Bowl box to pupils.
MICHELE JURICH/THE CATHOLIC VOICE

Students learn what a Rice Bowl contribution can do

A snack changed Thomas Awiapo's life.

Giving up a snack might just change someone else's, Awiapo told eager young listeners at Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Fremont on March 30.

 
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Stories, reflections, recipes and donation information at www.crsricebowl.org
 
Awiapo, toward the end of his nine-week tour of the United States on behalf of Catholic Relief Services, found himself at a place he knew well. When he was a graduate student at California State University Hayward — it was Hayward, then, not East Bay, he pointed out — the parish offered him housing for a few months. He had visited the school at that time, too.

"I feel at home here," he told the students, who gathered in two assemblies, one for the primary grades and the other for fourth- through eighth-graders.

Sister Janice Therese Wellington, OP, principal, told the students that Awiapo was there to tell them about "something you've been doing since the beginning of Lent."

Awiapo began his presentation by folding the cardboard Rice Bowl. When you put it together, he told the students, "You are assembling many, many broken lives."

One of those broken lives was his own.

"When I was a child, I received help from this little box," he said.

"Does what you're doing make a difference in the life of anyone?" he asked the students.

He pointed to himself.

Born in a village in Ghana about 50 years ago, he and his brothers were orphaned as children.

"We were four little boys without parents," he said.

The eldest brother ran away. The two younger brothers died, likely from lack of food.

"Because I was hungry, I was always looking for food," he said. "I smelled good cooking at a school."

There was a catch.

"The teachers wouldn't give you food unless you sit in class," he said. "I loved the food. I hated the school." He walked five miles each way to Catholic Relief Services-sponsored school.

"I went to school just for that little snack."

That snack, which was cream of wheat, launched an academic career that was supported by religious orders. He completed high school and college, and came to the United States on a scholarship to earn a master's degree in public administration.

He returned to Ghana, where he works for Catholic Relief Services.

"My job: I trick children to go to school," he said. In addition to working in educational support, Awiapo works with savings and international lending cooperatives; maternal; and child health; and water initiatives in his country.

His own children, he said, "are in school, whether they like it or not."

Awiapo said he understands that "education is liberation."

"The power of a little snack is the greatest gift I've ever received," he said. "All it takes is a little act of kindness. Rice Bowl is one of those little acts of kindness."

Seventy-five percent of contributions to CRS Rice Bowl go to overseas programs, such as the school where Awiapo found his future, with 25 percent remaining in the local diocese for programs that feed the hungry. Forty East Bay agencies received $31,000 in grants from the 2016 collection.

The students asked Awiapo a number of questions about life in his village in Ghana. Third-graders were particularly happy to learn that his family has a pet monkey. Curious George is their class mascot.

 
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