New Zealand Law Society - Young lawyer committed to social change: David Tong

Young lawyer committed to social change: David Tong

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By Rachael Breckon

Young lawyer David Tong spreads himself across a plethora of different causes. Perhaps unsurprisingly one which he feels very passionate about is ensuring children make the most of their gifts.

A former trustee of the Gifted Education Centre, he is now the chair of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, born from the recent merger of Gifted Kids and the Gifted Education Centre.

Mr Tong was a scholarship student at King’s Prep School. So he knows first-hand what it is like to excel at an early age, but he distinguishes himself from the children who benefit from the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

The New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education helps children whose schools are not meeting their educational needs.

“I was lucky to go to a series of great schools,” he says. A number of the Centre’s students have high intelligence but also behavioural difficulties.

He uses the example of a student with an IQ of 168 but who also has both dyslexia and ADHD, so the normal classroom environment doesn’t meet their needs.

“The kid is going off the rails but is very, very bright,” he says.

It is especially important for low decile schools without the resources to cope with bright, but time consuming children, he says.

Mr Tong’s day job is firmly based in the community, as a solicitor at the Auckland Community Law Centre. He is also completing a Master’s degree at Auckland University, looking at the Treaty currently being negotiated to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

On top of that he is trustee and chair at the P3 Foundation, a New Zealand-based movement of young people with the vision “to see the end of extreme poverty within our generation”.

The P3 foundation has aided development projects in India, Burma, Indonesia and Tonga.

He is also a trustee of the Vegan Society and founding co-chair of the Aotearoa New Zealand Human Rights Lawyers Association.

Asked what motivates him to put so much effort into the community and human rights law, he credits two things.

One was a pivotal experience as a teenager. On a Kung Fu trip to Maccau, he crossed the border to Zhuhai in mainland China, where homeless young women traversing the red light district tried to pass babies to the visitors. It was then Mr Tong realised the real effects of extreme poverty and lack of legal protection.

Mr Tong says he has big shoes to full because his father, Richard Tong, who worked for the Devenport Borough Council, was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of recycling schemes in the 1970s.

“Concerns for the environment and the less privileged has been how I was raised from a small child,” he says.

This profile was first published in LawTalk 848, 15 August 2014, page 17.

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