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Danforth experiences life changing events in Africa

Photo by Cory Wyman ’16--Mr. Tom Danforth ’78 responds to a question from a student in his English class.

By Cameron M. Bray ’16

The scorching sun beats down on Mr. Tom Danforth ’78 as his companions wander lost on a trip across the north Kenyan desert.

The water kegs are empty.  Mr. Danforth and his friends resort to desperate measures to survive after 10 days of being lost.

Not exactly a cheery memory, but Mr. Danforth still can’t resist showing slides about the Peace Corps before every Thanksgiving.

“All I really heard is that he was stationed in Africa and then he tried to drink camel (urine) or something,” said Herman Bathla ’16 when asked what he had heard about Mr. Danforth’s experiences in the Peace Corps.  “Now I’m curious.”

The camel rumor is not true—Mr. Danforth and his companions made it safely out of the desert.

After spending three years in the Peace Corps from 1982 to 1985, Mr. Danforth went to teach at Brophy in 1985.

Today, Mr. Danforth continues teaching Honors English II to sophomores and AP English III to juniors and likes to keep his students on their toes.

Danforth as a teacher is sort of like having the uncle of your family where everyone just loves him to death …” said Carter Santini ’15.  “It’s like having that guy come and teach you English and it’s great.”

Classroom life for Mr. Danforth at Brophy is much more festive, simpler than when he taught in Africa.

“I had many interesting experiences,” Mr. Danforth said.  “My students couldn’t understand my accent … it took them a good six months to learn my accent.”

When saying “been” as “ben,” students couldn’t understand what he meant.  But when he used English pronunciations, his students could understand him.

Besides his time in the classroom, Mr. Danforth had many adventures and misadventures in Africa.

“I almost started a riot in my village,” Mr. Danforth said.  “I went to a student’s house for dinner and we had corn meal … and I learned a few days later from my headmaster that the family had given me the last of their food.”

A few days later, Mr. Danforth went to Nairobi, returning to the village afterwards with a 60-pound bag of yellow corn meal.

Upon returning, Mr. Danforth found that the entire village was mad at him, because he gave them yellow corn meal, which they used to feed their pigs and animals.

Mr. Danforth explained that Americans eat the yellow corn and feed the white corn to their animals.

“So then everyone had a big laugh out of that,” Mr. Danforth said.  “They couldn’t believe that Americans ate the food that the Kenyans give their animals.”

Besides almost causing riots, Mr. Danforth said he went on a canoe trip down to the Indian Ocean on Christmas and went on camel trips across the northern Kenyan desert.

Despite the life or death experience he had in the desert, Mr. Danforth said that the  experience was definitely life changing.

“It gave me an appreciation for poverty,” Mr. Danforth said.  “My experience has always been the less people have the more generous they are.”

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