MVHS student Jeanette McKellar reunites with Ghanaian refugee

MVHS student Jeanette McKellar reunites with Ghanaian refugee

Elise Joshi

Thomas Awiapo, a refugee from Ghana, reunited with MVHS freshman Jeanette McKellar earlier this month after having lived at her home for two weeks when she was seven.

Alone and on the streets in Ghana, Awiapo was an orphan by age ten. Both of his parents died of AIDS. Two of Awiapo’s younger siblings died of malnutrition, one of whom passed away in Awiapo’s arms. His older brother left his family.

“What he did was he went to this school just for food, because they provided him food. It was a Catholic school. Then he became really involved with the Catholic Church,” McKellar said. “He became part of a program called Catholic Elite Services and they offered him a job. Now he goes all around the country telling people about his story and the poverty that is in Ghana.”

Awiapo lives in one place for a few weeks, shares his story at a local Catholic church, and moves again to do the same in other cities in the United States. In 2009, he came to Mountain View and talked to the community of the Saint Simon’s Catholic Church.

The circumstances in Awiapo’s life have shaped his life philosophy.

“He doesn’t know how old he is,” McKellar said. “He just lives.”

McKellar and her parents contacted him through a program called Catholic Charity, inviting him to live at her house. When he arrived, they brought Awiapo to the Saint Simon’s Catholic Church.

After getting past the confusion of why Awiapo was around her house so much, McKellar said, Awiapo’s presence in her life enabled her to get a better understanding of life in foreign countries. She learned how much work it was for Awiapo to survive as a child with no one to help him until Saint Francis Xavier, the school which helped Awiapo get a better education and food.

“Now I realise that he is such an inspiration to all these people because he’s come from nothing and created such a great life for himself now,“ McKellar said.

Their short time with him inspired them to travel to see Ghana’s culture and people with their own eyes. McKellar and her family are considering welcoming a teenager from Ghana into their home in the near future.

In addition, McKellar plans to do volunteer work and community service more locally to spread kindness throughout the area as well. So far, she has worked in homeless shelters through a program called Innvision, and would like to find other ways to help the community as well.

“Be thankful for everything you do have because he was so grateful and happy for the little things that he did have. I think I really took that into account,” McKellar said.