Thomas Awaipo, a native of Ghana who lives there and works for Catholic Relief Services, spoke to the students at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy about his experiences growing up as an orphan and how he managed to obtain a master’s degree and start a family.
Awaipo never knew his own date of birth or his parents; they died when he was very young from unknown causes. He and his three siblings – one older brother, two younger brothers – went so hungry that his two younger siblings died and his older brother ran away from their home village. Awaipo has not seen him since.
But his life turned around with the help of CRS, an American Catholic organization that carries out charitable works around the world. In Ghana, those works concentrate on generating fresh sources of water and promoting education. Awaipo was enticed into attending a primary school there with the promise of a steady meal everyday. He now works for CRS in his home country to do the same thing for other children in need – offering food in exchange for schooling.
While Awaipo was not born in the Catholic faith, he revealed in a Q&A session with students after his initial talk that he almost became a priest, but when he was in seminary, he met the woman who is now his wife. He has four children of his own, ranging from 18 to 5, all of whom now attend or will attend school.
Awaipo was invited to speak at the FSHA assembly by Bob Harper, the chair of FSHA’s board of directors, and his wife Joan. The couple visited Ghana through CPS several years ago. They introduced Awaipo, who was their host while they were staying there.
Before the assembly concluded, Awaipo invited all present to participate in a Ghanaian “shining” ritual in which people rub their hands together, clap once, twice, then three times, and then press the palms of their hands to their foreheads. The warmth of their palms represents gratitude and love.