Andrew Fink:Getting a wish from dream well dug

Andrew Fink (yellow jersey) in Benin

Andrew Fink:Getting a wish from dream well dug
By Tom Berridge, Burnaby Now - LINK to story

A goalkeeper with Trinity Western University Spartans will likely never feel alone in the nets again following an unforgettable experience in Africa last month.

Burnaby Central Secondary grad Andrew Fink recently returned from a two-week missions trip to the tiny West African republic of Benin in May with the varsity men's soccer team.

There, the Trinity Western players, helped run soccer clinics, build a church structure in a remote village and played three matches against local clubs, but most rewardingly, they helped cap four wells that will supply clean water to the rural populace through the Global Aid Network's water for life initiative.

Clean drinking water is estimated to add 15 to 20 years to the life expectancy of villagers. At present, the life expectancy of adults living in the rural areas of Benin is below 60 years of age.

Water-borne diseases from contaminated ground water are considered largely responsible as well for a high infant mortality rate in the tiny West African country.

"It really was something that has altered my perception and how things go around," said Fink, who helped Central win a B.C. high school soccer championships in 2005 and two national club championship titles with the Burnaby Selects Royals.

Fink carried with him a winning tradition, helping TWU to the Canadian Interuniversity Sports national championships in 2008 and '09, winning a silver and bronze medal, respectively.

But the material rewards from those athletic accomplishments paled in comparison, Fink said.

"For someone like myself growing up with the Burnaby Royals and in high school in Burnaby, there was always someone there to help us out.

"But during my time at Trinity Western I was asked to reflect on what got me there. It seemed to me that the stars always lined up for me," he said. "I never was conciously aware of how many people had helped me get to where I was. Knowing that, almost made it an obligation for me to help others."

During their stay in Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, the players stayed in the coastal city of Cotonou, but each day were bused to the countryside, where they worked alongside GAiN leaders in remote villages.

Benin, which covers an area of approximately 110,000 square kilometres has just 121 km of coastline and borders Togo on the west and Nigeria to the east

Fink described the villages as primitive clay structures with thatched roofs and no mechanical advantages of any kind.

Village women would walk up to 15 kilometres a day to and from neighbouring wells with heavy vessels on their heads that contained ground water for drinking, bathing and cooking "that you wouldn't wash your car with," Fink said.

"But the single most thing I have taken away from that trip is you see the water they drink and how they live, and they are just as happy, if not more happy than we are."

It made him and his teammates rexamine their own priorities.

"When you step outside your comfort zone with the guys there are things you wouldn't see otherwise," Fink added. "Everyone was being pushed."

At times, some could not hold back their tears and unabashedly broke down in front of their mates.

All the players toiled long hours, up to 12 hours per day, working in the humid tropical heat to bring the villagers the gift of clean water.

There were village taboos to be aware of and the shunning by locals of untouchables, mostly those with physical or mental disabilities.

Fink remembers fondly one such little boy, who had a severe visual impairment.

He wanted to join in with the village children in a game of soccer when the Langley university team came to town. But the other children said, "No, no, no."

Fink and fellow one-time Burnaby Royal, Shawn Parkes, who was helping run the drill, allowed the boy to play along.

They placed him with another boy and then quietly rigged the two-man drill so the disabled boys' team won.

"I was the goalie, so I took some liberties with the goalkeeping," Fink confided.

But the moment when Parkes hoisted the young disabled boy over his head in a gesture of triumph, will likely be forever indelibly etched in Fink's memory.

"You could see it in his face. Just for that moment, he was the best," Fink said. "I'll truly never forget the boy's face when he won. In the moment, it was joy. I was so caught up in the celebrating, but when I got home and I told my mom and my girl friend, I got a bit choked (up), for sure."

It was emotional moments like that that were shared back and forth among teammates.

It was just such confidences that will make a difference for the players going forward, Fink added.

"We had to respond, and seeing my teammates really give over there, it really makes we want to work harder for them," he said.

"The conversations we shared over there, we would never had had here. It was two-fold better, and I think it will translate onto the field in results, and continue to work in the community and to a better outlook in what's important in life."

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Last Updated: 2012-03-07
Author: Mark Janzen