Armed with three university degrees from India and years of teaching experience, the only job John Anchan could find when he arrived in Canada in 1987 was as a janitor mopping floors.
Today, he's the associate dean of education at the University of Winnipeg and reaching out to kids in India not reaching their potential.
"India has not given much focus to the at-risk kids falling through the cracks, but people are beginning to notice," said Anchan.
He just returned from Chennai, India where the U of W has launched the Lost Prizes program to help gifted and at-risk children missing out on an education.
Lost Prizes is the brainchild of his boss, education dean Ken McCluskey, who founded the program in the early '90s when he was working for the Lord Selkirk School Division.
He came up with a plan to reach out to talented, but at-risk high school dropouts using creative problem-solving techniques and raising their career awareness. He and special ed teachers in the Sunrise and Interlake school divisions helped young people figure out how to get from their current reality to "a desired future state."
The project was funded with provincial grants for innovation, and its success has since been picked up by schools in Manitoba and around the world.
McCluskey went to the U of W in 1998 and took the Lost Prizes know-how with him. Now the U of W trains students and faculty there and around the world to reclaim that lost human potential.
Eight education students from the U of W will do their practicum in Chennai this fall. Schools in India are paying for faculty from the U of W to train their teachers to implement Lost Prizes techniques.
Anchan said the idea resonates with people around the world who know that too much talent goes to waste.
A friend of his in Dubai gave 23 hectares of land in India for a school to be built in Mangalore for gifted kids who have not reached their potential.
The donor, who wants to remain anonymous, is a welder from India. He made a fortune in Dubai and now wants to give back, said Anchan, whose education contacts in India have opened doors for the U of W.
For Anchan, who's lived and worked in so many places at so many jobs, the rewards are profound.
"It definitely helps to leave the country and come back," he said. "It enriches the whole experience and that translates into making better teachers."
"While the job market is tight in Canada, there are all sorts of opportunities worldwide, " said McCluskey.
For the education students, a practicum in places such as India, Turkey, Thailand or Nigeria where Lost Prizes is catching on, is "transformative," said McCluskey.
"You learn a lot, and you become better global citizens."