Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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CRS project manager reminds Catholic school students of the ‘power of a small act of kindness’
from Catholic Charities Spokane
(From the March 17, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)
Thomas Awiapo, project manager for Catholic Relief Services, spoke to students at Cataldo School, Spokane, on Friday, Feb. 26. (IR photo courtesy of Catholic Charities Spokane)
“Don’t underestimate the power of a small act of kindness.” This advice from Thomas Awiapo, a project manager for Catholic Relief Services in his native Ghana, is more than just well-meaning counsel. Thomas knows first-hand that a small act of caring can change the course of someone’s life and give them hope.
Awipapo came to Spokane in late February to share his experiences in support of Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl, the Lenten tradition of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that helps Catholics journey toward the celebration of Easter. He spoke to students at Cataldo and St. Aloysius schools, and Gonzaga Prep High School, as well as at liturgies at St. Aloysius Parish, from Feb. 26-29.
When he was a young child, the second of four brothers, Awiapo’s parents both died. The boys relied on the care of extended family, but there simply wasn’t enough food in their small village, and he watched his two younger brothers die slow and painful deaths from malnutrition. His older brother, Awiapo remembers, simply left, and Thomas doesn’t know to this day where he went or what became of him.
One day, Awiapo smelled food cooking in the village. He followed the smell to a new school that had been set up with the support of Catholic Relief Services. Hoping to be fed, he discovered instead that to receive the meal being prepared, he would have to attend class first. Today, he smiles and says, “they tricked me.” Soon, he was attending school every day, as long as a meal was offered.
A few years later, a local priest arranged for him to attend a Catholic boarding high school. After graduation, a community of Religious Sisters sent him to college. Now he holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Cal State – East Bay and runs programs for Catholic Relief Services back in his home region. Married, with four children, he jokes that now his job includes “tricking children into going to school.” He advised the students to thank God for the gift of parents and to be sure to give their parents a big hug when they got home. He also held up the value of education, pointing to his own life story: “Education is liberation.”
Every year during Lent, Awiapo leaves his family to come to the United States to share his story and encourage people to remember the poor and hungry around the world through CRS Rice Bowl. “If you have ever wondered whether your pennies and dimes given to CRS Rice Bowl really make a difference, I am here in front of you as living proof that your sacrifices during Lent changed my life and gave me hope. And today, there are other children around the world with smiles on their faces thanks to you.” Last year, over $10 Million was raised nationwide through CRS Rice Bowl, he said.
Students were especially struck when Awiapo shared that he doesn’t know what his real birthday is, or exactly how old he is. Because he was born in his parents’ simple home and his parents could not read or write, he never had a birth certificate. At Gonzaga Prep, students presented him with a Happy Birthday cupcake, complete with a candle to blow out, reasoning that if he didn’t know his birth date, it might be today.
Seventy-five percent of donations to CRS Rice Bowl from the Spokane Diocese are sent to Catholic Relief Services for their work in over 100 countries around the world in hunger and nutrition, maternal and child health, agriculture, education, microenterprise, emergency response, and vulnerable children. Of that sum, 25 percent of CRS Rice Bowl contributions stay in Eastern Washington, where they fund small grants to parishes and community organizations for hunger and nutrition.
In 2015, local grants were made to Holy Rosary Parish, Pomeroy; Immaculate Conception Parish, Republic; Holy Family Parish, Clarkston; Assumption Parish, Walla Walla; St. Joseph Parish, Otis Orchards; Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Spokane; Brewster Food Bank; Othello Food Bank; Emergency Food Bank of Ione; Loon Lake Food Pantry; North County Food Pantry, Elk; and Meals on Wheels in Spokane.
Be sure to turn your Rice Bowl in to your parish during Holy Week.
(Awiapo can be seen telling his story on YouTube.)
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