John Thompson, a resident at Piper Shores in Scarborough, received an honor from King Charles III for the work of a charity he co-founded 25 years ago. Contributed / Piper Shores

A resident of the Piper Shores retirement community in Scarborough received a coveted award from King Charles III last month.

John Thompson was honored as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an award given to those from the United Kingdom who make significant contributions to arts, science, charity and public service. It is the order’s third highest honor.

Thompson, born in England in 1938, was nominated for the accomplishments of his nonprofit organization, Masicorp, which since 1999 has worked to improve the lives of residents of a South African township.

“To have an award, which is sanctioned by the new king, that is saying ‘thank you’ to all the people who have worked on this project, it is a great honor,” Thompson said.

While it’s an individual award, Thompson said it is also a recognition of his wife, Carol, and their staff, volunteers and donors.

Masicorp was inspired by the Thompsons’ experience in Masiphumelele, a township of about 40,000, in the late 1990s.


“We used to live in New Hampshire, so to escape the New England winters we started going down to South Africa,” said Carol Thompson, who was born and raised in South Africa. “When we were there, we found this township, which is just sort of another word for a slum. We met this wonderful woman Doreen who ran a daycare center … the conditions were appalling.”

An early childhood education center in Masiphumelele. Contributed / Masicorp

Apartheid, the system of racial segregation in South Africa, had ended in 1992, but its lasting effects were evident when the couple started spending their winters there. The people of Masiphumelele lived in shacks and the rundown school had no plumbing and inadequate resources for teaching and learning, they said.

“They were considered an inferior race and they weren’t given any of the same privileges,” Carol Thompson said.

Housing and other buildings in the township were mostly made of wood, and fires in the summer months were a major hazard. Strong winds that time of year made matters even more dangerous.

“We asked Doreen, ‘What would you like? What’s your dream?'” she said. “She said, ‘I would love to have a proper (daycare), and by that she meant something that’s built out of cement blocks that wouldn’t burn.”

The Thompsons returned to the United States and began seeking support for Masiphumelele.


They encouraged friends to travel to South Africa, which started attracting tourists under Nelson Mandela’s presidency.

“Because of apartheid, nobody went anywhere near the country for decades and South Africa is a beautiful, beautiful country,” Carol said.

What started as a few friends visiting Masiphumelele and seeing the conditions for themselves slowly grew into connections across the United States and an orchestrated effort to improve life in the township. Masicorp now has 70 staff members and a wealth of volunteers. The organization has helped construct five daycare centers, a youth center, a library, 23 houses, recreational facilities and more.

In total, they have initiated 35 different projects and programs, including professional skills training, to bring out the best of the community in Masiphumelele.

“We have worked with them to increase a sense of community,” John Thompson said, and that a sense of community is something all people seek, including in Scarborough. “Just the notion of community is similar, I think, all over the world.”

For more information on Masicorp and its work, go to

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