Thomas Awiapo

Thomas Awiapo: Celebrating Life and an Unknown Birth Date

Currently, I am on a speaking tour in the U.S. and enjoying every bit of it … except persecution by the snow. I met a little boy, a fourth grader who was celebrating his birthday. He graciously offered me a slice of his birthday cake which was yummy. Out of curiosity, I asked the little boy how old he was. To my utmost surprise, he said, “I will be 10 years in 10 minutes”. The boy knew his date of birth even to the minute. It must feel good to know and celebrate your birthday.

One of the questions I get asked a lot when I speak to school children in the US is, “How old are you?” I visited Holy Spirit High school in the Northeast region to speak to an all school assembly of 750 students. One of the numerous and good questions I was asked was, “How old are you?” My answer is, I don’t know exactly how old I am though I very much wish I did. I explained to the questioner that I was born not in a hospital, my parents could neither read nor write and no records were documented. It’s been impossible to find out my actual date of birth.

A follow up question from another student was, “if you don’t know your date of birth, then what do you celebrate for birthday?” My answer was, “I celebrate life.” I am simply happy and grateful to God to be alive and everyday and every moment is my birthday. I know it must feel good to know and celebrate your birthday every year but I don’t know mine and it is ok with me. The good news is I get to make up a date of birth for myself, but the problem is that I always forget it and have to check for it in my passport.

At the end of my presentation, one of the students asked for permission from the principal of the school to sing Happy Birthday for me given my story of not knowing my birthday. The whole student body including faculty and staff broke into song—Happy birthday to you… What a beautiful song and a great gift that was for me! It brought tears of joy to my eyes.

- 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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4 Responses to “Thomas Awiapo: Celebrating Life and an Unknown Birth Date”

  1. Debbie DeVoe Says:

    Thanks for sharing this touching story Thomas. I felt sad when I first read that you didn’t know your birthday. I like how you’ve turned that into a gift each day to celebrate. A toast to you!

  2. Tracy Stanton Says:

    Hi Thomas! My sons were fortunate to hear you speak at their school, Mater Dei, in Bethesda, Maryland not long ago. Patrick and 4 of his friends had a birthday party and invited the entire 5th grade class. These boys (Patrick, Peter, Luke, Charlie and Riley) were inspired to collect donations to CRS in lieu of receiving birthday gifts. They wanted you to know how much your visit meant to them – and their classmates! Thanks for your visit, and please advise how best to co-ordinate their gift to CRS.

  3. Mary McEleney Says:

    What an amazing life. I am going to try to celebrate life more..

  4. Sister Catherine Pisarczyk, SSJ Says:

    Dear Thomas,
    I heard your moving story at Holy Family Parish in Newark, Delaware through a workshop presented by our Diocesan Parish Social Ministry. Following that day I corresponded with you via email.
    My friends, Tom and Sarah Flood of St. Anthony Parish, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will be visiting Wa, a town about 30 mi. SE of Kalsegra in the NW section of Ghana from 8-17-to 8-31, 2010. Their newly built church in their sister parish, St. Anthony’sof Wa will be consecrated while they are there. Please welcome them in my name if you are near Wa during that time. They are so happy to be preparing for this time with the people of Wa. Thank you and know my prayers are with you and your family each day.

    Love and blessings to you and yours,
    Sister Catherine

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