HMCS Calgary departed for Operation PROJECTION late July. The crew knew they would travel to many areas of South Asia, and the potential to make a difference abroad was on the horizon. At the time, no decision was made on to what volunteer work the Ship’s Company would be involved in or where it would take place. In late August, a decision was made that HMCS Calgary would partake in two community activities in Da Nang, Vietnam.
Volunteer work is often conducted by deployed ships, such as during HMCS Winnipeg’s recent deployment or HMCS Ottawa during Operation CARIBBE in Guatemala. HMCS Calgary also took on a similar path and connected with the Boomer’s Legacy Foundation to raise visibility and awareness to the Boomer’s Legacy Foundation.
Boomer’s Legacy began when Corporal Andrew “Boomer” Eykelenboom, a Medical Technician, was killed in action by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2006. Andrew spent his free time in Afghanistan helping those in need and he wrote home, “Mom, send me good things for the children, putting a smile on their face is the most important thing.” The Boomer’s Legacy Foundation is a 100% Canadian charitable organization that was created to embody and perpetuate the passion Andrew had towards helping the people in need who he encountered while deployed. The goal of Boomer’s Legacy is to empower all deployed Canadian Forces personnel by the raising and provision of charitable funds, thus helping them to help others. In this way, they are able to carry on Andrew’s legacy of providing humanitarian assistance to people where ever and whenever Canadian Forces members are deployed.
I volunteered to take on the charity work during the visit in Vietnam. Initially, two schools were identified as the local establishments that would require assistance. The two volunteer activities would be: Children affected by Agent Orange and Da Nang Specialized Future School (for children with disabilities). The goal was to make a difference by painting the building, donating toys to children at an orphanage or school, providing books to school children, and building desks. The crew from Naval Replenishment Unit (NRU) Asterix also joined the project. Petty Officer Second Class Ley Ireland took the lead for NRU Asterix and joined in full force to assist in building a memorable event. A request for funding was initialized and later approved by the Boomer’s Legacy Foundation. This would spark the interest of many sailors of both HMCS Calgary & NRU Asterix to make a difference in the lives of others. Preparations were made for each event, volunteers were sought, and gifts and equipment were purchased. The sailors were interested instantaneously and names of volunteers flooded in. Overwhelmed by the amount of interest and restricted by the amount of personnel that could be involved in each project, only a selection of the volunteers was chosen to attend. Furthermore, the cooks on board wanted to aid above and beyond their other commitments, so they provided cookies and juice for the children as a special treat. Ultimately, Da Nang was destined to be a port to remember.
On the first day when the volunteers visited the Children affected by Agent Orange, 50 children and young adults aged from 10-25 greeted the sailors. Many were afflicted by disabilities. The 24 sailors were also greeted by the Canadian Defense Attaché (CDA), the school headmaster, Embassy Canada to Vietnam, Charge d’affairs, Mr. Robert Bissett, and the local Vietnamese media. You could feel the excitement in the air.
Our Commanding Officer (CO) Cdr R. Saltel shared his appreciation to the children, school officials, the Canadian Embassy representatives, the local media and to his crew. Then Calgary’s Team was ready to get to work. The crew was dispersed in three groups; one for painting the fence, one to play with the children and one to learn new skills through their interactions with the children. This approached proved to be beneficial and made a lasting impression on everyone. The children’s smiles left many sailors speechless. The language barrier was evident, but happiness everyone felt proved to have no boundaries. The Canadian Embassy gave gifts to the children, such as packs of balloons, soccer balls, coloring books, crayon boxes, and hats. The Ships’ crew also brought gifts like stuffed animals, toys, soccer balls, basket balls, books, crayons, blankets, mattresses and many other such items which were donated through the generosity of Boomer’s Legacy Foundation.
During the visit, it was also recognized the center was in desperate need of an upgrade to the classrooms. This gesture made by the Boomer’s Legacy Foundation will leave an imprint on the students, school and the sailors for years to come. The school indicated that a plaque would be made to recognize the crews of ships for their efforts in the upgrade the school and also to Boomer’s Legacy Foundation for their donations. This short visit made a lasting impression on many sailors and certainly on the children of the school.
On the second day, a different crew was assembled to take part in the volunteer work at the Da Nang Specialized Future School. This orphanage housed 50 children aged 7-15. 36 sailors arrived by bus to the school, where they were greeted by the school headmaster, Embassy Canada to Vietnam representative and the local media. The kids were excited to welcome the crew and did so through numerous cheers. This greeting warmed everyone’s heart and set the tone for day. A few introductions were made by the school officials and the Executive Officer of NRU Asterix, LCdr Nicolas Bruzzone.
Afterward the volunteers were dispersed in three groups: one for painting, and two groups to play with the children. It was a picturesque scene to see the volunteers playing with the children. The second day was concluded by the donation of gifts to the children. The Canadian Embassy provided gifts such as packs of balloons, soccer balls, coloring books, crayon boxes, and hats. The crew from Calgary & Asterix gathered on the stage and handed out numerous stuffed animals, toys, soccer balls, basket balls, books, crayons, blankets, and mattresses, all items contributed through the kindness of the Boomer’s Legacy Foundation. Calgary’s Command Team was also in attendance for this activity. The CO shared his appreciation for the warm welcome and for the chance to make a difference in their school. Another day where the crew felt accomplished!
A few words on the period of giving fom the representatives from Embassy of Canada:
The Embassy of Canada to Vietnam was pleased to join the crew of HMCS Calgary for their outreach activities during the ship visit to Danang, The crew’s presence and participation with the children at these centers brought smiles and laughter to their faces. The sharing of gifts and volunteer work helping paint the facilities left a positive impression on the children.
The resources provided courtesy of the Boomer’s Legacy Foundation helped promote friendly relations and leave a positive impression for Canada Vietnam relations. The HMCS Calgary was able to graciously donate all of the building materials needed to construct an additional classroom facility at the Social Welfare Centre.
As a follow up activity, Canada’s Chargé d’affaires to Vietnam, Mr. Robert Bissett, was provided with a HMCS Calgary plaque, which the embassy will present to the school upon completion of the classroom. The Chargé commented that, “this classroom will ensure the goodwill generated by the crew of the HMCS Calgary and Boomers Legacy will endure and the people of Danang will recall the ship visit with great affection.” Robert Bissett
In closing, PO2 Ireland stated:
It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of something so much bigger than myself! I truly believe that In order to make the future bright, I need to make a difference in the life of a child less fortunate than myself. I feel I did just that if only for but a moment in Vietnam.
For my part, I will cherish my experience for years to come in leading those two activities and this journey would have never been possible without the involvement of the volunteers and mostly without the donations made by the Boomer’s Legacy Foundation.
Andrew “Boomer” Eykelenboom has made a difference for the kids and he also made a difference for me – Thank you, Boomer’s Legacy Foundation.
Written by CPO2 Line Laurendeau