Ghana -- Solidarity through a growing friendship Print
Respect Life
Thursday, Apr. 02, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

MADISON -- Ghana is the featured country for Operation Rice Bowl this week. Last year, this African nation celebrated its 50th year of independence. Ghana gets high marks for improvements in the democratic process and has shown strong economic growth. Part of this success can be attributed to the efforts of Catholic Relief Services.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is the official international humanitarian aid agency for U.S. Catholics. By feeding school children, training teachers, providing knowledge and resources to grow better crops, providing clean water, and so many other ways, CRS has contributed to Ghana's success. The Diocese of Madison has been a part of these efforts through interaction with our sister diocese, the Diocese of Navrongo-Bolgatanga in Ghana, through multiple delegations to share faith and friendship.

The efforts of CRS

Focusing on young schoolchildren, CRS provides food assistance in the form of hot lunches, which encourages attendance. Because schooling is not always deemed necessary for girls, there is an added bonus for girls to attend school. They are given food to take home to their families.

Thomas Awiapo, now a CRS staffer in Ghana, was once an orphan on the brink of starvation. Our delegates first met Awiapo on their visit to Ghana, but the relationship has continued over the years.

In a recent visit to our diocese, Awiapo told his story of how his younger brother died in his arms and how he realized that by attending school he could get food. He's open about the fact that he was initially more interested in the food than the learning. But he explained that soon he was loving the learning too.

He credits CRS for who he is today, a man from Ghana who has gotten advanced education in the United States, is married with children, and has a job that allows him to spread the word of the wonderful results U.S. Catholics are achieving. ( http://crs.org/ghana/empowered-for-life/ )

A former high school instructor and diocesan delegate to Ghana, Santo Carforo, Janesville, says he "was most impressed with the dedication that the Diocese of Navrongo-Bolgatanga puts in education. I had the opportunity to visit a junior high school as well as a local college. The junior high quarters are cramped, three or four students to a desk, limited books, 50 to 60 students per class. Teachers are concerned about the limitations in supplies, class sizes, etc., but appeared most positive and happy about the services they were able to offer their students. There is more of a focus on what they do have instead of feeling sorry for themselves for what they don't have . . .

"There is an overall feeling of hope and joy among the people in the midst of limitations. Their faith appears extremely strong with much love and trust for the Church, so much so that there are many people standing outside the sanctuaries for Sunday Mass since the sanctuaries are filled to capacity," said Carforo.

Another project, the Donkey Project,  increases household income by improving the lot of small farmers. Donkeys, harness, plows, and carts are given to women who are trained to care for the donkeys. The project has shown that production increases and the families are able to increase their income through carrying their goods, and those of their neighbors, to market.

Diocesan delegations

In 2002, Jessica Brey, now director of religious education at Nativity of Mary Parish, Janesville, went on an adventure that has transformed her life. She volunteered to be a delegate on the first diocesan Global Solidarity delegate exchange to Navrongo-Bolgatanga. She says, "Navrongo-Bolgatanga has become part of my family. All of us celebrate when we get a visitor. We welcome them with open arms and lots of food and as many presents as they can cram into their bag."  

Jessica Brey treasured her experience so much that she volunteered to be a delegate for the 2006 exchange. Carl Brey, her husband, also made friends and helped further the diocesan partnership by traveling to Ghana in 2008. He's a retired business man and wrote, "For me in picking a charity, I appreciate the fact that virtually all of the money I send to the Global Solidarity Partnership actually gets through to the people who need the help." Delegates pay their own way so their commitment as a family has been a powerful witness.

Another delegate, Dale Breuer, Jefferson, shares, "when watching the slide presentations and listening to talks about recent visits to our sister diocese in Ghana, it brought back a flood of memories of my visit to Ghana in 2006. Oh, what wonderful memories . . . I realized at that moment how important our work is there and how we must continue to nurture that relationship. If ever I felt like I was practicing what we preach, it was (as part of the Global Solidarity team)."

True solidarity

"Solidarity," according to Pope John Paul II, "is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all."

The support of so many schools, parishes, and other groups for the diocesan Global Solidarity Project, purchasing donkeys and providing friendship and much needed assistance, is an example of "persevering determination." As U.S. Catholics, through CRS and Operation Rice Bowl and through our own diocesan Global Solidarity Project, we are standing solidly with the people of Ghana.

Solidarity through Action
  • Use the remaining days of Lent to pray, learn, fast, and give alms through Operation Rice Bowl.
  • Buy Fair Trade gifts at http://gifts.crs.org or Divine Chocolate Easter Eggs at SERRV at http://www.serrv.org
  • Contact the Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 608-821-3086 to schedule a delegate to come and share stories of solidarity.

Susanna Herro is the director of the Diocese of Madison's Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach.