Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl snack saves lives

Laura Keener, Editor.

A snack. Thomas Awiapo said that he owes everything that he has today — including his very life — to a snack.

Mr. Awiapo works with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Ghana, Africa, and was the keynote speaker, Feb. 13, at the annual diocesan CRS Rice Bowl kick-off event at Bishop Howard Memorial Auditorium. The local CRS Rice Bowl event is co-sponsored by Catholic Charities – Diocese of Covington and the diocesan Office of Stewardship and Mission Services.

At the event student representatives from six high schools and 10 elementary schools come to learn more about the popular CRS Rice Bowl Lenten project and about local poverty and how 11 local social service agencies assist local families in meeting their everyday needs of food, clothing, shelter and security. The students can contribute spare change during Lent to provide for these needs.

Mr. Awiapo said he “brings a message of hope, for the gift of CRS Rice Bowl.”

Students were captivated as Mr. Awiapo recounted how he grew up in a village that did not have access to running water or electricity. His parents died when he was very young, leaving him and his three brothers orphaned. Hunger was a part of their everyday life. He said he watched his younger brothers die from hunger and the third, the oldest, left the village in search of food — he has not heard from him since.

Then, one day, CRS established a school five miles from the village, and while he did not have any interest in attending school, the school provided a snack.

“They tricked me into going … I loved that snack. Unfortunately, they tied that snack to the school and I was taken hostage (by the snack),” he said.

Thanks to CRS, Mr. Awiapo received an education, obtaining a master’s degree in public administration from the University of California, and working with CRS — “tricking children to go to school,” he said.

He shared his amazement at the abundance of clean water that is readily available in the United States, while in the village he grew up in people struggle to find clean water — even sharing water sources with animals, which leads to life threatening illnesses like cholera.

“What is life if not for clean water? Pray for those who struggle every day for clean water,” he said.

Mr. Awiapo encouraged the students — especially if they are tempted to waste food — to “remember my face,” and to think about his deceased brothers and others in America and around the world who experience hunger every day.

He ended his talk encouraging students to find small ways they might be able to help others.

“God blessed us all so that we can bless one another. I think Rice Bowl is one of those little ways we can bless one another,” he said.

Referring to the cardboard “rice bowl” box students use to collect spare change during Lent through the CRS Rice Bowl program Mr. Awiapo said, “When you assemble the little rice bowl what you are actually doing is assembling many, many broken lives around the world.”