Haiti school keeps memory of RCMP Sgt. Mark Gallagher alive
Gallagher worked in Halifax, Moncton and Bathurst before his final tour in Haiti in 2010
In one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, stands a brand-new school built in memory of Maritimer Mark Gallagher.
The Sgt. Mark Gallagher Vocational School has now been open a year, and its students and staff remember the man who inspired it.
A charitable organization, Friends of Mark Gallagher, raised money to build the school and along with AQANU — a Quebec-based partner with more than 50 years of experience in Haiti — started planning the project shortly after the devastating earthquake that is believed to have killed more than 230,000 people, including Gallagher.
An RCMP officer who was last based in Halifax, Gallagher was in Haiti for a nine-month tour helping to train the national police force as part of a United Nations mission.
He had been stationed in Haiti since July and returned after spending Christmas with his family in Canada. Gallagher was was only in Port-au-Prince for a few hours when a devastating earthquake struck Jan. 12, 2010.
'He lives inside us, inside every student'
"He was a man with a big heart," the school's vice principal Jean-Rony Louis told Radio-Canada.
"With the construction of this school and the history of this man, Mark Gallagher is immortal for us. He lives inside us, inside every student, inside every professor."
Before working with the United Nations peacekeeping forces, Gallagher was a common face in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick media stories as the RCMP's spokesperson.
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Those communities, with his friends and family, raised more than a millon dollars over five years to build the school that now bears his name.
The Canadian federal government also pitched in almost $800,000 for the project. Construction started in 2012 and it opened in the fall of 2014.
Students learn to rebuild Haiti
A team with Radio-Canada Acadie, producer Paul Émile d'Entremont, reporter Nicolas Steinbach and cameraman Pierre Fournier, travelled to Haiti in March 2015 and conducted interviews.
The school was designed to offer 15 programs for all 13 communes within Carrefour, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. In addition to basic skills, such as cooking and sewing, organizers wanted to provide some trades training, such as plumbing and electrical work.
The school is earthquake-resistant and equipped to admit around 500 students from the area. The school replaces one destroyed in the earthquake. Around 150 people were killed when the building collapsed, most of them children.
Louis says it is allowing young people living in a poor community the opportunity to learn how to earn an income.
The students, some of whom are orphans, are also learning trades to help rebuild their country.
"I want to serve my country," said student Samuel Jean-Charles, who wants to be carpenter.
School 'absolutely critical contribution'
Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais rushed to Haiti only a day after the 2010 earthquake to help with the recovery.
Blais helped transport Gallagher's body back to Canada, along with that of RCMP Chief Supt. Doug Coates. Gallagher was found in the rubble of an apartment building Blais once lived in, he said.
The school is "an absolutely critical contribution" to the country, Blais said.
"It's something that speaks volumes about the commitment that we have as Canadians to people in Haiti and the importance of education to allow these people to get out of the misery that they have," Blais said.
"It's an education that goes beyond simply to get the background to get a job," he said.
"It's education to make a lasting cultural change to support social capital, to support social cohesion."
The school is indeed one step in a longer process to rebuild, which is well underway, vice principle Louis said.
"Mark Gallagher used to say something very important," Louis said.
"The simplest actions are often the most important ones."
With files from Paul Emile D'Entremont