Papalian is in West Africa mining gold. He had heard and read about Ghana being one of the top eight countries in the world for gold prospecting, so he staked a claim there.
Papalian picked up 100 acres of land on the frontier. The mining license he was required to get carried a stipulation. He needed to perform community service in that country.
Aside from the land, all the machinery and equipment, all the geologists and the 20 paid employees he wound up hiring, he became responsible for a school and orphanage in the heart of “nowhere,” he said.
The children have a name for Papalian. They call him “Papa,” a derivative of his surname. Sometimes, it’s Rafik Papa. Other times, Papa Rafik.
He adopted two orphaned girls and placed them into caring homes. He drops by the school some days so covered in mud and grime from digging that he showers with his clothes on to clean them as well.
Papalian calls his venture the Ashanti Gold Mining Belt. Google it and you’ll see what it’s all about.
“My jewelry business hit a lull and I needed a career change, a new investment,” he said. “We made a family commitment to sacrifice in order to make this work.”
The name “Ghana” means “warrior king.” In some ways, it typifies Papalian. He’s been a true warrior through the ordeal inside a land known for its instability and where weapons roam freely.
There is no hot running water. Extreme heat of more than 100 degrees arrives daily. There are few basic necessities. Nets are required for sleeping. The mosquitoes are so vicious, they’re like bloodsuckers.
That’s the life he’s chosen for himself these past 2½ years, making it back home every six months to check on family matters and his jewelry business. Walk inside his shop along Route 125 in Plaistow and you’ll see handbags and shoes on display, the proceeds of which support the orphans.