Thomas Awiapo

Dear President Obama …

Thanks for visiting my home country of Ghana. I really do hope that you enjoyed your visit and Ghanaian hospitality at its best.

I listened to your speech to the Ghanaian Parliament and the rest of Africa. I have read it over and over again; I can’t stop reading it.

I asked a friend what he thought about Obama’s speech and he had this to say: “His speech was a breakaway from the conventional master-servant oration. He spoke to us like one of us, like a brother and a friend. He spoke to us like a grandpa passing on words of wisdom to his grand children.”

I couldn’t agree more.

But President Obama, there is one thing you didn’t talk about that I know first hand…

That’s the great economic divide between the north and the south of my great country. Please do not forget that this regional and rural disparity still exists. Accra and Cape Coast where you visited and were treated to all its grandeur is only a tiny slice of the true story of Ghana.

Working for Catholic Relief Services, I have traveled across the length and breath of Northern Ghana, to the most remote villages and communities you can possibly imagine. With deep sorrow I can tell you this – hundreds of thousands of children still sit under trees that serve as classrooms. The dusty ground they sit on is their desk. I have seen schools where 10 children have to fight over a single textbook. Water and food are basic human rights and yet there are millions of people in these rural communities who wake up every morning wondering where to get one meal a day. It is not uncommon in some of the rural communities to see human beings competing with animals to drink the same source of water from filthy ponds and rivers. I speak as an eye-witness to some of these situations and conditions which are disturbing and heartbreaking.

I loved everything you said. But in a very special way, I loved your philosophy of foreign aid. You said: “Aid is not an end in itself. The purpose of foreign assistance must be creating conditions where it is no longer needed.”

I guess I liked this statement because it reflects my life story.

My parents never had the opportunity to go to school. Worse still, they both died so young, even before I was 10 years old. Two of my siblings died of malnutrition and lack of other basic needs. Going to school was not something that was on my agenda. My only goal was to survive the hunger and starvation that I felt day and night.

Now comes the triumphant part. The terrible pain of hunger and starvation and the desperate search for food landed me in my village school where CRS provided a little snack and a hot lunch to any child who came to school. What a great incentive that was! I hated school, but I loved the snack. It held me hostage in school. When the school served food, I was punctual and well behaved. If they weren’t serving food that day, I tricked the teachers and snuck away.

As CRS kept providing snack and lunch in my village school, I kept going to school and today, I hold masters in Public Administration from California State University-East Bay and I work for CRS in Ghana. Today, I am the proud father of four children who are doing well in school because I now understand that education is liberation, and I can now provide a snack and lunch for my children to stay in school.

President Obama, your visit to my country Ghana was symbolic and historic. I know it was a long flight and definitely hard on you and your family especially Sasha and Malia. I could tell you were exhausted as you deplaned Air Force I onto the soils Ghana. Mr. President thanks a lot for the visit and thanks a lot for your fraternal words of wisdom. I just hope your visit and your words will bear fruits that will be mutually benefical.

– Thomas Awiapo
As a child in Ghana, Thomas Awiapo was a beneficiary of CRS school feeding programs. Now, as an adult, he works for CRS Ghana and travels to the U.S. annually to tell his inspiring story to American Catholics at schools, parishes and communities. Thomas will be a featured guest blogger and will be reporting from Ghana about the issues he witnesses firsthand.

Watch the video: Empowered for Life: The Thomas Awiapo Story.

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