Maureen Thompson reflects on a career in Guyana and the lottery that got her here

Hadley Carr

When most people enter lotteries, they are frequently met with disappointment. But over twenty years ago, Wilson Special Education teacher Maureen Thompson lucked out.

Thompson’s prize, called a Diversity Visa, allowed her to move from her hometown of Georgetown, Guyana to the U.S. The lottery program, run by the U.S. Department of State, was founded during Thompson’s childhood with hopes to diversify the United States’ immigrant population. With this goal in mind, the lottery’s applicants are made up of citizens from countries with the lowest immigration rate to the U.S. within a five year period of the lottery. After the winners were selected, the applicants received letters from the U.S. embassy. 

A few years after the Diversity Visa program was founded, Thompson and her family went to the U.S. embassy in Guyana and put their names in a box. In December 1996, Maureen Thompson won the lottery. In July of 1997, Thompson and her family arrived in the United States. In August of 1998, Thompson began teaching at Wilson.

Throughout Thompson’s life, the factor she says that has had the largest impact on her life is family. In Guyana, a familial atmosphere was extremely prevalent. Thompson describes how she was “raised by the village, everyone was aunties and uncles even though we were not blood-related.” She particularly remembers “being told Nancy Stories by our elders on moonlit nights in our yards” and adds how “the village took care of us, we couldn’t walk over streets without saying good morning to anyone and everyone we see, if we did not that was an offense.” 

As Thompson grew up, she became focused on school. The main reason for Thompson’s focus on school was the lack of extracurriculars and sports to guide her attention elsewhere. Thompson never realized the poverty of Guyana until she “went to school and learned the facts and that’s when it hit home.” Inspired by her own education, Thompson taught for 26 years, serving as a “Teacher Officer of the Guyana National Service preparing to defend our country against Venezuela.” Her goal was to train students to defend their country, following the motto, “every citizen a soldier”. 

Thompson is now a Special Education Teacher at Wilson. She mainly became a Special Education teacher because what she taught previously, Home Economics, was not offered at Wilson. Her favorite part of the job? Watching her students “take their places in society.” Thompson added that her students “earn a certificate of completion, not a diploma, we follow a life skill curriculum with an emphasis on independent living.”