By Jeannine Friesen
Looking back Maureen Eykelenboom recalls that it was on the flight from British Columbia to Ontario that she knew she had to do something to honour her son Cpl Andrew “Boomer” Eykelenboom. “As I sat on the plane and watched my son’s ramp ceremony from KAF on the news the overwhelming raw and unreal emotions that grew made me say, we have to do something,” explains Maureen. “It was like Andrew was saying, ‘okay Mom, I have done my part, now it is your turn.’”
Andrew was known to have a caring and nurturing nature. It was those traits that made it a natural fit when he decided to join the military as a medic. While he was deployed to Afghanistan Andrew would share with Maureen through his letters and phone calls how hard life was for the people in Afghanistan and how they were living with so little. On August 11, 2006, he made the ultimate sacrifice when he lost his life to a suicide bomber in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan. He was 23 years old.
It has been almost four years since the Eykelenboom family stood on the tarmac, in the rain, in Trenton and watched Andrew’s flag draped coffin come off the plane. In the days following Andrew’s repatriation ceremony the family didn’t know what or how they would keep Andrew’s memory alive, but Maureen knew as she met Andrew’s buddies that she wanted to raise awareness to the Canadian people about what Canadian troops were doing in Afghanistan. “I knew that whatever we did, we had to help raise awareness of what they were doing,” recalls Maureen. She wanted to get the message out that soldiers were putting their lives on the line to help Afghanis and the loyalty that the troops have for their comrades. She recognized that she had an opportunity to make a difference and to help our soldiers help others.
And she has done just that. As of March 2010 Boomer’s Legacy has raised over $300,000 for the Assistance to Afghanistan Trust Fund (AATF). The fund is created within the Department of National Defence and 100 per cent of the funds raised through Boomer’s Legacy are used to support projects that are similar to those that are done by the Provincial Reconstruction Team(PRT). Boomer’s Legacy differs from the PRT because the use of funds from the charity is determined by the troops on the ground in Afghanistan. When soldiers see a need in a village or with a family the troops can make a request to the PRT, which is how the troops access the funds that have been donated to Boomer’s Legacy. The request is reviewed and if approved the funds are released from the AATF to meet the need and the aid is distributed by a committee of military members through the PRT. “The soldiers that participate in making the recommendations and spending the funds know that they have made an even greater difference,” says Maureen.
For Maureen, Andrew’s spirit lives on with the legacy. Since the inception of Boomer’s Legacy a variety of projects have been funded to help the women and children of Afghanistan. Last June, Maureen travelled to Afghanistan to see how Boomer’s Legacy was making a difference in Afghanis’ lives. She had the opportunity to present a cheque for $80,000, which was designated to finance more aid projects. While she was there Maureen also had the opportunity meet Niaz Hussaini, an interpreter that Andrew was credited as saving the life of.
Two fundraising projects that support the legacy are the Annual Boomer’s Bike Ride, where sponsored riders cycle from Victoria to Comox and Boomer’s Cap Project. Last year Boomer’sBike Ride raised over $50,000 for the charity. The Boomer’s Cap Project, which was initiated by friends of the Eykelenboom family, has provided over 67,000 caps for infants through to teenagers. The cap project is a personal way for soldiers to help keep children warm in the winter months. Initially, the sewn and crocheted caps were created for newborns, but because the project was so successful it was expanded to fit toddlers to teenagers.