|Just a Field Trip: Daniel Thompson ’17 Changing Lives on a Global Scale
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Wake up, eat breakfast, go to school, come home, hang out with friends until it gets dark out, eat dinner, do your homework, and go to bed. That’s normally the life of a 12-year-old boy. Life was a little more than that for Daniel Thompson ’17, but it started pretty much the same.
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“I became a Student Ambassador at my school at the age of 12 because it was all guys and I wanted to hang out with my friends,” Thompson said. “My teacher, Lori Gately, saw leadership and passion in me from that young age, as well as a motor that never stops. She saw that potential and took me on a field trip to a human rights conference.”
Thompson was one of just two students from his school to be able to attend that conference, held at Touro Law School in Central Islip, N.Y. about education practices and help for people in Kenya.
“I thought it was a field trip,” Thompson said. “I was prepared to sit there and take it all in until someone asked me what I think should be done. I was completely caught off-guard. What would a 12-year-old know about helping other people in another region of the world? I paused until it came to me. We should build a preschool.”
Something clicked that day and sparked a chain of events that led to Thompson speaking across the northeast at colleges like Hofstra and Adelphi, high schools, elementary schools, and public libraries, trying to raise awareness and money for this cause. He, along with classmate Thomas Brown and other members of Youth Speaks for a Cause, started the Coins for Kenya project that raised thousands of dollars and made his dream that much more of a reality.
At the age of 16, Gately called him and his mother into her office with news.
“We’re going to Africa,” she said.
“I was so excited and hyped,” Thompson added. “Before I got on the plane, three things were running through my head. Lions, tigers, and bears. I’m not going to lie, it was a little scary, but a lot of people never get the chance to go back to their motherland and just being able to actually go and execute what I had been speaking about for years at that age was a very exciting opportunity.”
The goal of the initial trip was to build a preschool to educate girls and stop them from being married off and subjected to genital mutilation, an epidemic in that region of Kenya. The idea was to educate the children of the Maasai tribe at a young age and then gain sponsorships for them to continue their education at the high school level and keep them away from assault-prone situations. Along those lines, Gately, Thompson, and other members of Youth Speaks for a Cause, would also build safe houses for women that were already in danger.
“It really didn’t hit me how significant this opportunity was for me until I was there,” Thompson said. “They’re not used to seeing African Americans. They were welcoming me and touching me as if they have never seen someone from the other side before.”
“Everything is open, everyone is loving, and you must be a person that is willing to connect with any person in any situation at any time for the experience to be meaningful,” Thompson added. “There were emotional times when kids would hold my hands for safety as we walked through the streets, but we built certain connections.”
Through Youth Speaks for Cause and its connection with Chief Joseph Tilatopango and the Maasai tribe, Thompson was able to travel to Africa three times during his high school career. During that time, they built five preschools and there are currently 23 girls that are being educated under the care of the organization.
Following the return home from the second trip to Kenya, Thompson was given another opportunity of a lifetime. When he was 17, he was selected to speak at the United Nations Teaching Conference for Human Rights. The conference’s goal is to allow teachers/educators the opportunity to share programs and ideas on teaching peace and human rights across cultures, while also providing an opportunity to build peace and human rights education networks.
“As a young adult, the opportunity to be in a place and interact with such significant people from around the world was amazing,” Thompson said. “It made me realize that there are people out there willing to make a change, but the initial step must be taken. Actually executing on ideas is the biggest challenge.”
Thompson spoke about global literacy and education around the world as well as his time in Kenya. He was definitely nervous his first time as one of the youngest kids there, but was able to calm his emotions and speak from experience.
“When I was overseas, I took a day to try to be a student and fit into their shoes,” Thompson spoke. “As Americans, we’re lucky to have a desk. We don’t have to be educated outside next to a tree, rain or shine. These kids walk four to five miles a day to go to school. It definitely gave me a different perspective on how fortunate we are to benefit from the American education system.”
On April 4, Thompson spoke for his third time at the UNTCHR in New York City. He was able to share his thoughts with delegates from eight countries and educators in Makati City, Philippines, and Mexico City and Queretaro City, Mexico.
As a student representative and leader for the International Educational and Community Development Program and under the guidance of the President of Global Education Motivators, Wayne Jacoby, he helped to promote education and cultural exchanges that are mutually beneficial to all communities and sustaining peace around the world.
“At this year’s conference, I met a woman named Ella Tori, who worked with Eleanor Roosevelt when she was the chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1946–1951,” Thompson reminisced. “Her whole demeanor and mindset on education is something that will stay with me for a long time. She said, ‘educating others gives you the opportunity to educate yourself.’ She explained to me that there are kids out there that can be successful in whatever they want to do if they have the passion and drive to succeed. Anyone from anywhere can help if they have passion in their heart for the cause.”
Thompson has brought these life experiences to LVC and is excited to continue his work here, while also helping out as a volunteer firefighter, playing on the football team, and completing a Multicultural Fellowship. Additionally, he has continued his Coins for Kenya project and is looking forward to other opportunities down the road as a sociology major with a concentration in criminal justice.
“When Coach Vince Pantalone [Defensive Coordinator for LVC Football] came to my high school, the whole demeanor of the man had me hooked,” Thompson said. “The people here are very loving and kind and the teachers care about your education. You can go to a school with 200–300 people in one class, but if the teacher doesn’t know your name, you’re just another number on their roster. I love it here and already feel like I’ve become a part of the LVC community and family.”
During his breaks from school, Thompson plans to continue his trips overseas and to be involved with Youth Speaks for a Cause and the Maasai tribe. At just 19 years old, with the passion and drive to succeed and make a change in the world, for Thompson, the sky is the limit.
For more on Thompson's journey to LVC, click here!