But you'd better not call him
that to his face, because he might hit you upside the face with a hockey stick.
Yes, Chris Armstrong, one of the Thai Stix' potent offensive weapons, projects
this tough surly side when he is on the ball hockey court. But actually, he's a
kind caring sort who among other things has worked with Father Joe and Mother
Teresa and taught street kids about AIDS awareness.
When you get a group of farangs
together, most of them talk about how much money they make, the state of their
investments, where they are going on their next holiday etcetera, etcetera. But
not Chris, he's more concerned with the plight of the street children he's
trying to help through the work he's doing with their counselors for an
organization called Street Kids International.
Chris was born with the
proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. His dad's a lawyer, his older brother's a
lawyer, and his younger brother will soon be a lawyer. Coming from the Avenue
Rd.- Wilson area in Toronto he certainly doesn't have to do what he does. He
went to preppie St. George's College High School in Toronto. Then he took a B.Sc
at McGill in physiology, thinking he would go on to medical school. "For a
number of reasons, it just didn't happen," he says, "When I graduated,
I wasn't as keen as I was when I first went in. I decided I had enough of
school. So I went to see my high school headmaster, John Latimer, who put me in
touch with Peter Dalglish, the founder of Street Kids International. I just went
to talk to him, and told him I was interested in what he was doing.
"Dalglish had a
relationship with Father Joe, so I wrote him and I asked if I could come and be
of some assistance to him in Thailand. He said sure, as long as I was willing to
work, and I could find my way here.
"I knew I wanted to travel,
but I didn't want to just go and backpack. I wanted to stay and learn about one
place, and do something of interest to me that might be useful to wherever I
"I first arrived in
Thailand back in 1994, and I ended up staying for about eight months. It was at
a time when Father Joe's Mercy Center needed to move. It had started as a small
home for street kids but morphed into more of an AIDS hospice because a lot of
the street kids living there were found to be HIV positive, and some them
started developing AIDS. All of a sudden, it became known as a place where AIDS
patients could find care. Hospitals even started sending AIDS patients there and
soon there wasn't enough room for the street kids.
"The lease on the old
building was running out, so we decided to move somewhere else and build our own
building. We raised the money, and the Christiani & Nielsen Company built it
for us in Lock G in Klong Toey. At the beginning, we had a little trouble with
the community so we did a little AIDS awareness program to help ease their
Why did Chris originally get
involved in working with those less fortunate than himself? "Age old thing,
I guess, I always wanted to have some sort of significant impact on other
people's lives as opposed to just being totally selfish. For me, working with
Father Joe, was an incredible learning experience, especially as I've always
enjoyed working with kids, as opposed to boring adults. I'm always been happiest
working with children.
"I don't know what the
inspiration was exactly though, it just made sense for me. I'd had enough of
growing up in a private school atmosphere, where everyone is selfish and career
and goal oriented, without giving any real thought to why they are heading down
that path. That didn't seem interesting to me, so I thought why not do something
Today, Chris sees more and more
kids being abandoned because of the economic crisis. "Thailand has the
potential to kick itself in the butt and sort out it's own problems," he
says, "But the country developed so fast, without developing a
social welfare safety net at the same time. When so much money comes in so
quickly, it usually comes in selfishly."
When Chris first arrived in
Thailand, he lived in the slum community of Klong Toey and got to know it well.
"It's a great community even though it's very impoverished. I learned that
poverty doesn't just mean a lack of a material things it also means lacking
compassion from others, lacking love from others, and lacking community, friends
and family. For me, Klong Toey makes up for what we see as material poverty with
its sense of community spirit and the way they all work together.
"Previously, I had only
known one view of the way life was meant to be, so it was a real eye-opener for
me to see that life can exist in another way, and people can be happier without
things we in the West deem as essential for survival.
"Klong Toey is a very open
tight knit community. The people really accomplish what they need to accomplish
but they do it together because they have to, that's the only way they can
things can get done."
After his first stint in
Thailand, Chris went back and worked in the mailroom of a law firm in Toronto.
Then six months later, he was off again - this time to Calcutta to work with
Mother Teresa's organization, the Missionaries of Charity, as a volunteer. While
there, he got together with a couple of other volunteers and started a soccer
league for street kids in the Sudder Street area of Calcutta.
In the mornings, Chris worked in
one of Mother Teresa’s homes called Prem Dang - the home for the dying and the
destitute. Fortunately, not everyone died. Nine out of ten people that came
needed a meal and treatment and they would go back out on the street again. A
lot of them suffered from mental illnesses. Chris's responsibilities included
cleaning up soiled bed sheets, cleaning the floors, doing laundry by hand,
helping patients take showers, giving them shaves, cutting their hair. He also
spent an hour a day bandaging people because many of the patients suffered from
street sores and were partially paralyzed, and covered with cuts, and bruises
from sleeping outside.
Chris says he didn't want to be
a Mother Teresa groupie. "So many people used to take a one week vacation,
come to Calcutta, meet Mother Tersea, and work for her mission for a few days. I
didn't want to be one more person lining up to meet her and talk to her. That
wasn't why I was there. I did, however, get to speak with her a couple of times,
and she knew whom I was, and why I was there. I even met her the first day I
arrived, because when I got there they ushered me into this little room at the
side of the convent and while expecting to meet the person who organizes
volunteers, out walked Mother Teresa who said, `Bless you, and thank you for
coming.' The best thing about her was that she inspired so many people to do
After his stint in India, Chris
went back to North America and in September of 95 enrolled in a two year
Master's Degree in Public Health at Yale University with an emphasis on
international health and development. While there, he did an internship with
UNICEF in New York.
While in New York, Chris helped
analyze UNICEF's past work in health communication programming and advised on
the organization's direction in this area. He focused primarily on HIV/AIDS and
tobacco issues. He also participated in the collaboration of the six UN agencies
involved with UNAIDS to plan and develop strategy for communication programming
worldwide. And he assisted in the development and integration of a health
communication manual to guide organizations to effectively program in this
Then after graduating from Yale,
Chris had the chance to return to Thailand, when he accepted a job with a youth
internship program, whereby Canadian based NGOs apply through CIDA to get
funding for interns to then work for them. "That's what Street Kids
International did, and they hired two of us to come to South-East Asia to do
this project. We spent two months training in Toronto to learn how to run these
workshops called - `Risk and Decision Making Workshops for Youth Workers.' My
partner, Christine Kim and I arrived in Bangkok 1 Dec 97.
"We collaborated with The
Thai Red Cross' AIDS Research Center to run workshops throughout Thailand for
people working directly with marginalized youth (street kids, slum kids,
out-of-school kids etc.) to share with them ways and ideas for talking to youth
and children about the issues in their lives relating to HIV/AIDs and drug use.
We promoted an approach that was non-judgmental and encouraged youth workers to
really try to understand what is going on in the kids lives before they can try
to help them.
"We did ten workshops in
Thailand and one in Cambodia, and Christine did four in the Philippines as well.
In Thailand, we worked with a group of eight trainers from the Thai Red Cross to
adapt the workshop and materials for Thailand and then trained them to give the
workshop, and they will carry on the project when we go."
And what about those street kids
that Chris helps: "They need the same things that other kids need - love,
support, and role models. They just don't have them. The reason they are living
on the streets is because they just don't have those things. They come from
broken homes, their parents are divorced, or one of their parents is dead and
the other can't support them. Some also run away because they think their
families can't support them. A new phenomenon in Thailand is AIDS orphans, where
one or both parents have died from AIDS, and there is no else to support
Bottom line: Chris is a good guy, doing good things - we need more people like him. For more info on canonization, you can contact him c/o: email@example.com