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Thomas Awiapo shows students the difference CRS Rice Bowls make

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Thomas Awiapo comes to the United States each Lent as living proof that the CRS Rice Bowls make a difference to children or families thousands of miles away. 

For the last 15 years, he has spoken for CRS out of gratitude. When he was a hungry child in a tiny village in Ghana, they gave him food to eat — and an education. 

“I think they tricked me into school,” Awiapo told students at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries March 26. “I hated school, but I loved the snack.” 

He may have hated school in the beginning, but Awiapo never stopped learning. He went on to attend high school. He attended college with scholarships and earned a master’s degree in public administration from California State University, but returned to Ghana after completing his education.

He said people questioned why he returned. “God blessed me so I can pay it forward,” he said. “I went back to find ways to pay it back.”

Awiapo brings back messages of gratitude from others who have received help from the CRS Rice Bowls. “Beyond this box are real people,” he said, holding up a bowl. “You might be changing the lives of another family across the world.”

Awiapo spoke also with students at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria and St. Bernadette School in Springfield. 

“It is a gift that Thomas was able to come to our diocese to share the powerful story of how he was able to survive and thrive because of the work of CRS, and how he returns that gift every day,” said Carla Walsh, diocesan program coordinator for CRS and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. “The students can learn from him how they, too, can triumph over suffering and how they can be part of the church's work on behalf of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.”

The students were moved by his presentation.  

“Listening to him talk was very moving and it reminded me of the blessings that we have and reminded me that there are things in this life that we do take for granted,” said junior Haile Mokrzycki. “It makes you grateful for what you have in your life and what we have been given.”

Awiapo sees his life as pure grace. “Grace is meant to be shared,” he said.  

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018