Photo: Mark Radke, retired OPP sergeant and Stittsville resident, in front of the OPP Kanata detachment. Photo via Stephanie Rudyk/SchoolBOX.
In 30 years as an Ontario Provincial Police officer in eastern Ontario, Stittsville resident Mark Radke knows how lack of opportunity and education can affect youth in a community.
So when Radke retired as an OPP sergeant at the end of May, he decided to bring education to a faraway community in Nicaragua so children there can have what’s taken for granted here.
He’s financed the construction of a school in Las Nubes out of his own pocket, to the tune of $23,000 and intends to visit the site when it is nearing completion to help and be on hand for the opening. He said it will be a very special moment for him when the school is opened.
“It’s going be quite exciting for me, just seeing the expression on the kid’s faces,” he said in an interview. “They’re going to have an opportunity to better their lives.”
Construction will begin in November 2018 and will likely be done by January, he said.
Radke was hired by the OPP when he was 22 in 1988 and was posted at five detachments: Hawksbury, Kanata, Goulbourn, Kemptville, and Ottawa. He said he’s become more involved in volunteering as he’s gotten older.
Starting in 2015, he’s been involved with the Canadian Cancer Society, giving rides to cancer patients to and from their treatments. He’s also a team organizer for Relay for Life.
As a cancer survivor himself, he said he wanted to make a legacy for himself in the form of a permanent contribution.
“I had a taste with my own mortality,” Radke said. “So I wanted to give back in a way that was concrete in nature.”
He partnered with the Almonte-based charity SchoolBOX to help accomplish his goal because he felt they were an effective organization, with a construction team based in Nicaragua. The organization has helped to build 99 classrooms and 75 libraries in the country, which it says is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti and has an elementary school graduation rate of 56 per cent.
In Ontario, the graduation rate for high school is in the mid-80s.
Jon Tam, SchoolBOX’s acting executive director, said in a news release that Radke’s school will go a long way in Las Nubes.
“People in this community have very little, but they realize that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. The parents want their kids to dream of becoming more than subsistence farmers,” Tam said. “Mark’s gift of education will have a ripple effect throughout the whole community of Las Nubes.”
But Radke said he isn’t done yet. When the school is built, he would like to also have a library for it constructed.
He’s also looking forward to enjoying a relaxed retirement. “I’m going to decompress,” he said. “Thirty years of policing, it’s time to slow down.”
Radke said anyone interesting in helping him or SchoolBOX can visit the charity’s website to find out how to get involved or to donate.
Correction: Radke’s first name is Mark, not Mike.