Peter Dalglish & Protege

Through his program, Horizons, Peter Dalglish takes privileged Canadian students to developing countries throughout the world to show them how fortunate they are and to show them that if they want they can make a difference in this world.

Peter says he is in the business of diversion; diverting a small number of people onto another path away from McKinsey, Citibank, Shell and Bayer. “And I’m not worried, those corporations will not suffer, they will continue to get the best and the brightest in droves because they offer something that people want: money. The work I’m offering, the path I’m showing these kids doesn’t have a pot of gold at the end of it in terms of financial compensation. But it does have something else, which I think is very alluring, and that is something meaningful. The Muslims say the shroud has no pockets. And I say to these kids that very few people on their deathbeds say to themselves, ‘Geez, I wish I had spent more time at the office.’”

The test for Peter on how much time he will spend on a particular cause, or project, is will it make an impact? “People sometimes ask why do I work with affluent kids? Because I can relate to them, you don’t have to be Freud to figure it out. I was born into white bread upper class London, Ontario with three-car garage and six bathrooms. These adolescents and I share a lot. But I wish someone had taken me when I was a sixteen-year-old and shown me another path, an alternative to law school or the corporate world, or aspiring to having a corner office, a BMW, a cellular phone and a cottage on Georgian Bay.”

“It’s extraordinary how many young bright people who have had the luxury of good educations end up in very tedious jobs, where they are making enormous amounts of money, but they have made the Faustian bargain. So I’m diverting them and showing them another path. They may chose to go all the way down that path; few will. They may chose to go part way, turn around and come back, which is fine, or they may chose not to go down that path at all, and that’s ok too. But they should know that there is that option.”  

Rebecca Davidson & new found friend.

A few years ago, Peter started called Schools without Borders (, which he runs for profit, because as he spent more and more time with these students organizing these trips his wife reminded him he had a kid to raise as well. As he says, “If these kid’s parents are willing to pay “x” amount of dollars for an orthodontist, therapist or tutor they can pay for my services too.”

But what does Peter look for when he chooses these students: “I’m looking for young people who are still curious, who haven’t had the last bit of spontaneity squeezed out of them by their schools or by advertisers, and Nintendo.”

Ed Barnicke just hanging out

On this trip, Peter was supposed to take 12 students to Rio but the trip was canceled at the last minute due to an outbreak of dengue fever so he scrambled, got in touch with his good friend Father Joe Maier who runs the Human Development Center in the Klong Toey slum in Bangkok and put together a project at the last minute, called Camp Canada. It was based loosely on the program used at the Taylor Statten camps, where kids take part in a group of different activities throughout the day. The only thing missing was the water, sail boats and canoes.

Christian Donath & Crew

But Peter has brought Canadian students to Father Joe’s Center (which primarily helps street kids) in the past and there were problems, particularly with a lack of follow-up from the male students. “We have had young people that we expected more from afterwards. They came here, had a powerful experience and then the kids here never heard from them again: not even an e-mail or a birthday card."

“But one of the problems at a Canadian boys school is that guys don’t get a chance to emote, we have to find ways to engender compassion, and we have to model caring for other people. Let’s face it it’s a testosterone fueled, sports driven environment. A lot of the stuff you see going on here in at the HDC, like our guys carrying little kids on their backs, you just wouldn’t see that at a boy’s school back in Canada.”

So Peter wondered if he made bad decisions in choosing the students, or maybe he hadn’t prepared them adequately, given them clear expectations or done a better job of following up himself.

So he had a sit down with Father Joe as soon as he arrived: “We talked about our concerns, our suspicions, our doubts. We put all the cards on the table, we just ran down the list: Why were we here? Was it guilty white liberal shit, Dalglish wanting a cheap vacation to Bangkok, resume padding, famine tourism or party in Patpong, or a little of all of the above? And why hasn’t there been any follow-up from previous programs?

“So Joe, Nuri Frame, HDC’s Director of Development & Public Affairs (also a Canadian), and HDC staff member Nitaya Pongkasem came up with the idea that we run a structured program. We stay here, we teach English in the morning, and an activities program in the afternoon and we don’t go running off to McDonalds, take the kids to see films at Siam Square or on the Skytrain. We did take them to Wat Po, but most of the kids had never even been, and as they are Buddhists it was a great cultural experience for them.

“I have even made the argument that I should only bring young women here. We have learned in the developing world that the way to make an impact is to focus resources on women. Men will smoke it, drink it and gamble it. One could argue that the best way to assure we are making an impact is to just to bring women and let the guys find their own way, but somehow I ended up doing this work, and I think I have made a contribution, so I think guys can make a contribution as well.  

“The young Thai kids involved in these projects need men as role models, they need men to act as mentors, they need men who are not going to hurt or abuse them. They don’t need Elton John, Renaldo, or Madonna, they need men and women who are consistent, reliable and dependable. They want their volunteers to be on time and to show up because they have been disappointed and let down so many times in the past. One kid’s father left him at the railway station and told him he would be back in an hour: the kid was still there three days later.

“Sadly, in Canada, we are losing the ports of entry for young people to get involved in this type of work. CUSO, like the Peace Corps, was a vehicle for young idealistic 19-year-olds to get their feet wet. But the average CUSO volunteer today is 35-years-old, and probably a soil agronomist. I believe in the notion of epiphany, and I argue that if you have an epiphany when you are 40-45 that is pretty late, it won’t do the world a whole lot of good. But an epiphany at 18 can have a very powerful impact. So I’m trying to put these kids in a place to make that happen. And when you give young people responsibility, amazing things can happen.”

Six of the original 12 slated for Rio ended up making the trip to Bangkok. They are: Christian Donath, the oldest of the group at 19, and a Trinity College School student. Rebecca Davidson, 16, also from TCS, while three others: Ed Barnicke, 17, Andrew Edelberg, 17, and Ali Kanji, 15, attend Upper Canada College, and 17 year-old Ashley Peeps attends Branksome Hall.

Ali Kanj and one of Father Joe's charges.

Commenting on his perception of the street kids and how he actually found them, Ali Kanji says: “I envisioned street kids as living in poverty with a lack of organization and structure but these kids have been taken off the street, so the most interesting thing for me is watching how they cope. They are always playing, laughing and smiling. The ones that I have gotten to know well seem to be having a blast, and this reflects on the organization of HDC. Had these kids been born into more affluent, well-off families they could be going to good schools and grow up to be great leaders.

“What the HDC has done for them is to give them some hope and as the Center develops the kids will become even more successful, and opportunities will open up for them. This is the first group that had an academic focus, it still needs to be improved, but we have made a good start.”

Ashley Peeps & Buddies

On what she’s gained and what she hopes to impart, Ashley Peeps says,“I really feel I have gained a lot more than the kids. They threw us in
here the first day and said ‘Teach these kids English,’ so we had to stop and think how we were taught languages, where do we start? I’ve always worked one-on-one but this was a whole class of students.

“While I’m here, I want to give them all the attention they deserve. They don’t ask many questions, they mostly just want to play with you: they want to braid your hair, teach you handclapping games and teach you how to dance their way and then laugh at you when you can’t do it all.

“I communicate through hand gestures and facial expressions. I hope to give them a better basis for English, help them form new relationships and friendships and help them feel better about themselves because a lot of these kids here just don’t feel very confident.”

Just before leaving, Andrew Edelberg summed up his trip this way:

 “This is the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life and I love these kids. I just want to have fun with them and that’s what they want too. They are always on the go. My childhood is much more materialistic than theirs is, or will ever be, but even though they do not have much money or many material possessions, they are just as happy as any kids I have ever seen in the developed world. It just goes to show you kids are amazing that way.”

Andrew Edelberg lending a helping hand.

Whether Peter’s kids do go on to help more people in the developing world is up to them.  But Peter Dalglish, Father Joe Maier and the Human Development Center have at least planted the seed.


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