A vocational school is set to open Monday in Haiti in honour of a respected Mountie from New Brunswick killed almost five years ago in a devastating earthquake while he was on an educational mission in the Caribbean country.
Sgt. Mark Gallagher, a well-known spokesman for the RCMP in the Maritimes, was in Port-au-Prince as part of a United Nations training force when the earthquake struck on Jan. 12, 2010.
More than 220,000 people were killed by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, including Gallagher and RCMP Supt. Doug Coates.
Gallagher had made numerous trips to Haiti to help train police officers there and had just arrived for the start of what was to be his final visit.
His wife Lisa said Mark often spoke of the despair in Haiti and wondered how best to make a difference.
"We both believed that it was education, starting with the youth and giving them different ideals to hold onto and to build a better future with," she said.
"I think the school is exactly what it is going to take to make a difference."
Gallagher and his family lived near Woodstock, N.B., and soon after his death, people in the area began talking about ways to honour him and help the people of Haiti. A group known as the Friends of Mark Gallagher was formed to examine their options and start a fundraising effort.
Chairman Richard Blaquiere said that because Gallagher was in Haiti to educate police officers, the group decided it would work with international partners to build a vocational school in the community of Riviere Froide.
"The challenges certainly came in trying to co-ordinate construction of a major project in a country that was hard hit by an earthquake and even before the earthquake was quite destitute," Blaquiere said. "So there were problems."
He said soon after the property in the mountainous area was cleared of debris from the earthquake, squatters moved in and had to later be removed by local authorities.
Blaquiere said about a year into the project they were forced to almost start over when their engineer quit.
The group was working with the Sisters of St. Theresa, and around two years into the project, a niece of the woman with that group who was helping to co-ordinate the school development was kidnapped.
"They wanted $40,000 ransom for her," Blaquiere said. "At the end of that story it was $2,500 and the guy that took the money actually had jerked his own gang around and was on the run from the gang, but at least she was returned."
Just last month, the vice-principal of the new school was attacked while getting a ride home on the back of a small motorcycle.
"Bricks and rocks are thrown at him, he is thrown to the ground, beaten up on the ground and kicked in the head," Blaquiere said. "His computer was stolen and he was unconscious for about 24 hours."
That vice-principal has recovered and is back at work, Blaquiere said.
Fundraising has also been a challenge, he added. The group received $789,000 in assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency and raised over $400,000 in donations in New Brunswick.
Blaquiere said more donations are needed, especially for student bursaries, but he hopes to have the school self-sufficient in three years.
Lisa Gallagher said it's important for Canadians to support the effort because the world is continually a smaller place.
"Given all the resources that we have, I think sharing and leading the way is something that we should be doing," she said.
About 100 students will walk through the front doors of the Sgt. Mark Gallagher Memorial Vocational School to begin classes Monday to study agriculture, carpentry, masonry, secretarial and flooring and tiling.
A ceremony marking the official opening will be held Nov. 23 and Lisa Gallagher said she hopes to attend.
"It is such a blessing and helps us believe that (Mark) didn't die in vain," she said.