The Gallagher School project began within weeks of the devastating Haitian earthquake of January 12, 2010. What began as a plan for reconstruction of the destroyed primary/secondary school evolved into a complicated but exciting effort to build a functional trade school in the community of Riviere Froide, Haiti. The excitement was palpable among the beneficiaries of the project - the sisters who run it and the peasants who will be the students in the classes.
Building a trade school on a deforested mountain in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere after a major earthquake is not without its delays and frustrations and the Gallagher School project organizers have experienced delays and setbacks from the beginning. However, the drive to succeed and deliver a functional school to the peasants of Riviere Froide so they can begin to build a life for themselves and their families and contribute to the Haitian economy has never wavered. Our hearts are in Haiti and our passions in the project.
There have been significant delays from the get-go and this brief report will attempt to explain those delays. Finding an engineer for the project came easy as the sisters had a working relationship with Michel Guillaume Rouzier, a Haitian contractor/engineer who had built several smaller structures for the sisters (PSST) and was eager to build the Gallagher School. Permission to build the school had to be given by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) after an incredibly complicated application process was completed.
It wasn’t until June 2011, after literally hundreds of hours of preparation and a November 2010 submission by our Quebec partners, AQANU, that this permission was received. Fundraising had begun but construction could not be started until CIDA accepted the application as viable. Even then, there were several conditions that had to be met before the first hole could be dug. The most complicated of these was notification that we would need to have an Environmental Impact Study conducted, submitted to and approved by CIDA. This demand was placed on us AFTER approval of the initial proposal was given.
Finding a firm to do the study was not easy but with the help of the Canadian Embassy, after several weeks of searching, a Haitian engineer with a background in conducting EIA studies was found, interviewed and hired. This began a several month back and forth exchange. It wasn’t until February of 2012 that CIDA was satisfied that a comprehensive study had been conducted and recommendations made. The recommendations precipitated more delays but finally, in April of this year (2012), the study was posted on the CIDA web site for public analysis.
For reasons given as personal, much to our dismay and disappointment, Mr. Rouzier, our original contractor quit the project in December, 2011. Clearly, this was a setback because it was Rouzier’s designs, estimates etc. that had been approved by CIDA. We’d need to contact and inform CIDA but it was felt that contact should be scheduled after some searching for a new firm was conducted.
This was simpler than it sounds as a German NGO, Kinderhife, was financing the primary/secondary school destroyed in the earthquake and had hired a large Haitian firm, GRETCO, to do the work. Within 48 hours, project coordinator Reg Sorel and Sister Gisele Chaperon, our contact with the sisters at PSST, had contacted GRETCO, informed them of the situation and, after GRETCO expressed interest, set up an appointment at the end of the week.
The meeting was held and GRETCO agreed to prepare a design and estimate that would be forwarded to us for approval in early January, 2012. It wasn’t until late January that we received the first draft. This began a series of delays with GRETCO, a large transparent, reputable firm with references and an attractive portfolio. GRETCO had been given the budget and was told to stick to those fees but the plans they provided over several months reflected a cost well beyond FMG’s capacity to collect. GRETCO would submit and then we’d return asking for more cuts. This process was repeated over several months causing more delays.
Final directions were proposed to AQANU to be delivered to GRETCO and, if accepted, and after another delay, construction should begin in the not too distant future.
Similar to other parts of the world impacted by catastrophic natural disasters, the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti has left many desperate souls resorting to rioting and violence; activities that have slowed the pace of reconstruction in many parts of Haiti.
Electricity has been unreliable as has internet service.
Despite the above, the Friends of Mark Gallagher and their partner(s), AQANU and PSST are committed to the project. I ask all supporters to continue their support and patience with our progress. This is an important project and the good people of Riviere Froide are appreciative of all we are attempting to do for and with them.
President and Co-Chair, Friends of Mark Gallagher