A Derry man whose son died of Malaria in 2006 is to embark on a month long vigil in memory of his son to raise money for a local charity.
Martin Gallagher has become a familiar presence each Christmas in the Guildhall for the ‘Santa’s Big Fundraiser Appeal’.
He will don his Santa suit once again next Friday and keep a vigil in the Guildhall until December 22 to raise money for Children in Crossfire.
The vigil was started by Martin and his wife Mary in 2010 in memory of their 23-year-old son Christopher.
Christopher was travelling in South East Asia when he contracted Malaria. He died just two weeks before he was due to return home.
Martin said his son was an ‘independent young man’ who was ‘fun-loving and always enjoyed the craic with his friends’.
During his travels Christopher witnessed people begging for clothes, food and water and was ‘genuinely affected by what he saw and vowed to do something to help these people when he returned home to Derry’.
Sadly, Christopher was never able to fufil this wish, but in the eleven years since his death Martin and Mary have attempted to fufil it for him by raising £56,000 for Children in Crossfire.
This Christmas, Martin aims to raise £10,000 for the charity through the vigil which will pay for a nurse for two years and supply her with the equipment she needs to educate people about Malaria and basic hygiene or provide them with treatment.
Malaria is one of the world’s biggest killers and 800,000 people die from it each year, mainly in the African continent.
Children under the age of five are the most vulnerable and malnutrition, the lack of clean water and starvation increases the risk to the most vulnerable.
Since Martin and Mary began their fundraising efforts in 2007, between 20,000 and 30,000 children of all ages have benefitted directly and many more thousands have benefitted indirectly from the money raised in three projects run by Children in Crossfire.
In 2010, the Gallaghers had an opportunity to see how the money raised was been distributed.
They were invited to Tanzania by Children in Crossfire and spent one week visiting facilities they support.
‘It was an amazing experience and very overwhelming in many ways, knowing that these people are benefitting from our work,’ Martin said.
As a former nurse, the ability to provide excellent health care is all important to Martin and he hopes to raise the bar this year through his fundraising efforts by supplying a clinic with medicines and medical equipment at one of the projects in Ethiopia.
Martin said the support he has had from Derry City and Strabane District Council and the people of the city has been ‘amazing’.
‘People are always so generous and doing the vigil is something I really enjoy. There is a great camaraderie with the staff in the Guildhall and everyone who comes along, young and old, tourists and Derry people, love the craic and getting a photo with Santa.
‘The Christmas tree, which I sit beside, is donated by the Mayor in memory of Christopher and the Council have even provided me with a sleigh to sit in’.
Over the years, Christopher’s friends have also been a huge support to Martin and Mary in their fundraising efforts.
With such a high target to reach this year, Martin hopes he can also rely on the support of local businesses.
‘It would be great if shops could leave out a bucket to collect donations or get in on the fun by wearing Santa jerseys for the day and raising money.
‘If a business would like to sponsor me during the vigil, that would also be brilliant. Every penny counts and I have seen for myself the important projects the money is spent on. We can build a better future for children in need of excellent healthcare.’
There are also opportunities to donate online at www.justgiving.com/santasbigfundraiserappeal2017 or via text by sending SBFA71 £5 to 70070.
Martin will be at the Guildhall from November 24 until December 22.