Home' Teacher : April 2011 Contents 70 TEACHER APRIL 2011
day into a quasi-Olympic Games event. He
awarded Olympic medals to the place get-
ters, earlier run ning down the 800 metre
driveway in an opening ceremony carrying
a kerosene-drenched torch in sweltering
summer heat, almost burning himself in the
process. Barrel-chested and with his frizzy
hair adrift, it must have been quite a sight.
During his years of teaching Doug spent
several weeks while on long ser vice leave
in the slums of Calcutta working alongside
Mother Theresa. The experience confirmed
for him what would become the rest of his
life's work: a fierce devotion to bringing
education to the marginalised and the poor.
Thirty years later, his face fails to hide the
emotion and the heartbreak of saying good-
bye to Calcutta. It was Mother Theresa who
nudged him home, saying, 'We don't need
you over here. Go back, look after the mar-
ginalised in your own country.'
'I left my heart there when I had to come
home,' he admits.
Working with Mother Theresa and peo-
ple suffering extreme poverty, mixed with
his earlier years of teaching and running
schools, guided him into some of his most
vital work. Doug went on to help found the
Doxa School, Melbourne, which provides
alternative education for young disadvan-
taged students struggling to stay in regular
schools. Likewise, in 1997 he established
the Bagong Barrio Education Fund, which
is responsible for the sponsored education
of about 100 students, and counting, from
Bagong Barrio, the largest slum village in
Manila in the Philippines.
Bagong Barrio Education Fund Direc-
tor James Lee met Doug almost a decade
ago volunteering at a tutorial program for
migrant and refugee students in Melbourne's
housing commission flats. Two years later
Lee was awarded the Young Australian of
the Year and a scholarship to provide an
assessment of an education program in the
Philippines. It just so happened that it was
the Bagong Barrio Education Fund and Lee
was to spend the next few weeks following
Doug, who was the director at the time, on
a visit to Bagong Barrio.
'Doug let me absorb my surroundings. I
was in shock, never having been to a third-
world country.' Still remembered affection-
ately by the people of Bagong Barrio, Doug
is often referred to as 'Lolo Peter,' or grand-
father Peter. 'He has a heart for the people,'
Recalling another trip overseas to Lahore
in Pakistan in 2006, Lee tells how he and
Doug gathered to meet students as part of
the Assist a Student scholarship program.
On a very hot evening, Doug dressed in
his usual pants and Marist polo shirt, was
presented with a turban by the local com-
munity, a gift which in Pakistan is one of
the highest marks of respect. Doug wore it
proudly for the duration of the ceremony.
Lee, standing next to this small man in a
huge turban, couldn't help but giggle -- until
Doug elbowed and whispered, 'It's all part
Doug's involvement, explains Lee, is
broader than just a program initiative. 'He
never forgets that the end outcome is to help
others less fortunate,' he says.
Doug still maintains close friendships
with those he has helped, including the
Bagong Barrio Education Fund program's
first sponsored student, Nida Tapia. He
stayed with the students and her family in
their one-bedroom house on his first ever
visit to Manila in 1987. According to Doug,
Tapia, who gained a u niversity degree
through the program and stayed to educate
the poor in her village, is a great worker.
It's early afternoon and already it's been
an action-packed day. Doug has insisted I
take breaks whenever I feel the need. For
his part, a brief reprieve at three o'clock
to inhale a pastie and cup-a-tea reveals his
drive for his work. He wouldn't have it any
Friend Paul Chalkley who worked with
Doug at the Doxa School jokes that if Doug
ever really did retire it would take a lot of
people to fill his shoes. 'If you're cold,'
says Chalkley, 'he'll take the shirt off his
own back and give it to you.' He tells of
one student who couldn't get to school, so
Doug would leave home earlier than usual
to pick him up and would drop him home
of a night. 'There's a lot that goes on that
no one sees,' explains Chalkley.
Doug's vision for helping the margin-
alised through education stems from the
hope that support programs will succeed
long past his involvement, via those he has
worked with along the way. Whether it be
through Danusia Kaska and the Assist a
Student program in Thailand, or the Bagong
Barrio Education Fund's James Lee and
Tapia Nida working in the slums of Manila,
his plan seems to be working.
It's the end of his long working day. For
most it's time to go home, but tonight Doug
will accompany volunteer high school girls
on a Vinnies soup-van run through inner
Melbourne. Lacking no less energy than at
9:00am, Doug greets the young students
with his customary double handshake and
opening question, 'So what's your name?'
Soon after, we rookies get to work chop-
ping rockmelons, bagging bread and filling
cordial bottles while the veteran volunteers
get on with the business of organising the
vans for the night ahead. Throughout the
night and at every one of the six van stops,
Doug stands back a little, stepping in occa-
sionally to introduce these timid girls to a
particular character or offer hints on how to
best hand out the soap packs the girls hold in
their green recycled bags. This is Doug at his
best. I can't help but wonder what is going
through his mind. As I turn and glimpse him
standing there, arms folded in satisfaction,
watching us handing out food from the soup
vans, I'm convinced that he's doing exactly
what Mother Theresa sent him back to do.
Student journ alist Jan e Ryan from Deakin
University won first prize in the in augural
ACER Student Jour n alism Award for this
article, origin ally titled 'A heart for the
Pictured, Brother Peter Douglas 'Doug'
Walsh at left with Tasty Truck's Managing
Director Colin Lear, ce ntre, and Soup Van
volunteer Russell Smith, right. Photo cour-
tesy St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria.
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