Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Trinity School learns about global relief, development from first-hand sources

Story and photos by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 3, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Thomas Awiapo of Ghana spoke to students at Trinity School, Spokane, about the work of Catholic Relief Services. (IR photo)

Students at Trinity Catholic School in Spokane visibly perked up when Thomas Awiapo spoke at an assembly at their school on Wed., Jan. 19. Why? Because Awiapo is from a small village in Ghana, Africa – a place students at Trinity had heard exotic stories about, and even studied in their classes, but had never visited.

Awiapo readily answered all of the students’ questions.

“What are your pets?” asked one student.

“I have one monkey,” he said with a laugh. “But we also have dogs and cats. In my village though, they are not just pets. Dogs are used for hunting and protection and cats are used to catch mice and rats.”

“What do you do for fun?” asked another student from the first grade class.

“We play soccer,” said Awiapo. “Do you know soccer? Anyone who wants to play after this, I will play. We also play volleyball and we wrestle. And the kids, they sometimes catch rats.”

“Ewwww!” came the student’s response, among shouts of laughter.

Awiapo is a Senior Program Officer for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official relief and development agency for the U.S. Catholic Community. He works in his native area in Ghana, helping CRS to provide education and food to impoverished communities. Awiapo visited Spokane in January with Joe Hastings, the Education Organizer for CRS’s West Coast Region, visiting schools and parishes throughout the diocese to promote awareness of CRS and what it does.

They also presented a workshop for priests, Religious, parish administrators and religious educators on Operation Rice Bowl (ORB), Catholic Relief Services’ annual Lenten program. ORB embraces the themes of Lent and invites participants to pray with their families and faith communities, fast in solidarity with those who are hungry, learn about their brothers and sisters around the world and give sacrificial contributions to the poor. Today, millions of Catholics in more than 14,600 parishes, schools and other faith communities across the U.S. use Operation Rice Bowl as a means to participate in the work of CRS.

Trinity School was a particularly important stop for Awiapo and Hastings because the students at Trinity were the first in the Spokane Diocese to respond to the call by CRS and Catholic Charities for donations and aid for the tsunami victims in East Asia. The nearly 200 students, in grades Pre-K through 8, raised over $400 – much of it Christmas gifts and hard-earned allowance dollars – to help the victims of the tsunamis.

Thomas AwiapoRight: Thomas Awiapo.

At each visit, Awiapo described the incredible difference CRS’ presence made in his small village in Ghana and talked about the relief efforts there and throughout the rest of Africa.

“It’s very helpful to have a speaker who actually works in the field,” said Hastings. “It puts a human face on the very real need out there.”

Hastings and other CRS administrators spend time each year visiting dioceses throughout the nation. Though they certainly wish to promote awareness of the organization and generate donations, Hastings said that their visits are more about “trying to figure out how we can support the dioceses.” Hastings explained that most of the U.S. dioceses are very supportive of CRS and all its efforts. CRS in turn, wants to help the dioceses by providing materials, education, inspirational lectures and even CRS-sponsored trips to impoverished, war-torn and damaged areas throughout the world. Hastings said that CRS wants more than donations from U.S. Catholics – they also want to see the Universal Church united to fight poverty and violence.

While CRS’s priorities right now include tsunami relief (CRS has already given over $25 million and U.S. Catholics have raised another $30 million for CRS’s relief efforts in East Asia), Hastings said that other major priorities include poverty relief in Africa, support programs for individuals, children, orphans and families living with AIDS – especially in countries like Madagascar, where one in three people is HIV positive – and peace building in many of the war torn countries throughout the world. Hastings said that CRS concentrates on creating long-term solutions to wider problems. For example, rather than simply providing AIDS treatment, CRS staff also works with the communities to help create an entire health care infrastructure.

As Lent approaches, both Hastings and Awiapo want to encourage Catholics in Spokane to take a new approach to Operation Rice Bowl. Rather than simply taking the cardboard rice bowl home, sticking it in a corner and grudgingly throwing some pocket change in every once in a while, they encourage families to place the rice bowl in the center of their kitchen table and make it a central part of their Lenten preparation for Easter.

“It’s not how much money you put in the rice bowl,” said Awiapo, “it’s being one with the world. It’s building solidarity through our ideas, prayers and thoughts with the rest of the world.”

Scott Cooper, director of parish social ministries for Catholic Charities, said that Operation Rice Bowl can be used to foster family prayer. “It can be a prayer focus for families at meal time during Lent,” he said. “It also has an effect of fostering family meals, where families actually sit down together without the TV to eat.”

This is the 30th Anniversary of Operation Rice Bowl, which has become a Lenten tradition throughout the U.S. Catholic community. The characteristic cardboard Rice Bowl has remained the Lenten centerpiece of the family dinner table

since the program’s beginning. CRS also provides a Home Calendar Guide which offers daily prayers and reflections, personal stories from people around the world who benefit from Operation Rice Bowl, and recipes for meatless Friday dinners from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, and Ecuador. Other Operation Rice Bowl materials include the Educator’s Guide, which provides lesson plans and discussions for schoolchildren in grades 1-12, and the Community and Parish Guide, which offers activities and resources for parishes and faith communities.

Annually, Operation Rice Bowl raises approximately $8 million. About 75 percent of the proceeds help fund development projects that contribute to food security in 40 countries around the world. Agriculture programs, water and sanitation programs, mother and child health programs, education programs and micro and finance programs that help fledgling small businesses all benefit from Operation Rice Bowl donations. The remaining 25 percent of Operation Rice Bowl funds remain in dioceses in the United States to fund local hunger and poverty alleviation projects.

Beth Martin, Operation Rice Bowl Program Coordinator, said that though the donations are wonderful, the Rice Bowl program serves a dual purpose. “We’re also sending our prayers. We’re taking action and fasting in solidarity with people throughout the world.”

By participating in Operation Rice Bowl in this 30th Anniversary year, Catholics in the United States join in a rich tradition, and put their faith into action by reaching out in solidarity to all members of the human family.

For more information about Catholic Relief Services and Operation Rice Bowl, visit the website at

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