“Without Operation Rice Bowl, I might have suffered hunger more, maybe even starved. I don’t know if I would have survived,” Thomas Awiapo, senior program officer of CRS Ghana, said, in an interview with the Loquitur.
Awiapo grew up in Ghana located in Africa where being hungry was a normal but painful feeling he endured everyday. Awiapo was orphaned at age 10 and had to witness the death of his two younger brothers because there was simply not enough to eat.
“Hunger is like sickness. It is a disease,” Awiapo said. “I would lie down to go to bed but could not sleep. Instead of sleep I groaned and cried because my insides were not working.”
Awiapo considers himself the “living reincarnation” of Operation Rice Bowl, a Lenten solidarity program run by Catholic Relief Services, which Cabrini College ministries participates in.
The Lenten program combines prayer, fasting, learning and giving using symbolism of cardboard rice bowls. Lenten calendars are also dispersed, highlighting different aspects of the program each day and encouraging participants to pray and fast in solidarity with the poor, as well as learn about the developing world.
“It is not just about money but a Lenten experience. It is learning about hungry people in the world and then when we get to know each other better, we are able to better support one another,” Awiapo said.
Operation Rice Bowl sends 75 percent of the money earned overseas to over 40 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The money is used for agriculture, water and sanitation, education, HIV and AIDS, microfinance and maternal and child health.
In Awiapo’s case Operation Rice Bowl allowed CRS to build a school in his village where they came up with an incentive for children to attend by providing a snack during the day.
“God’s compassion to me was communicated through that little snack,” Awiapo said. “CRS personalized a desire for me to go to school and that is why I am here today.”
The other 25 percent of money raised through Operation Rice Bowl goes directly back to each archdiocese for food pantries and hunger centers in that particular area.
Anne Ayella, Catholic Relief Services diocese director of Philadelphia, has witnessed this money being used first hand in soup kitchens and food pantries all over the Philadelphia area.
“The response is just incredible. The people are so grateful and amazed that somebody who doesn’t even really know them is able to help them with something that is going to make a real difference in their lives,” Ayella said.
“The fasting and solidarity and the praying and learning are equally as important as the ultimate contribution, the four components make it so much richer than just a regular collection, because you participate not just give.”
Father Michael Bielecki, Cabrini College chaplain, explains how even a small college campus like Cabrini adds to the big picture in the world’s fight against food insecurity.
“People don’t think that their single participation in a program such as Operation Rice Bowl can make a difference, but in reality it does. That one commitment adds to all the other communities’ commitments and together we have an effect on poverty,” Father Michael Bielecki said. “Operation Rice Bowl is that connection between your personal transformation of Lent and the transformation of the world.”
“Yes, operation rice bowl has made a difference in someone’s life, it has made a difference in my life and is making a difference to children around the world,” Awiapo said.