February 13

The LIFE Team had a bit of surprise this morning. The schedule had the team attending a church service with Mike preaching but no location. The surprise was that the service was at the church they helped build on Friday! On Friday, the team had commented, “Wouldn’t it be fun to join them for the first service in the new building?” But they thought they were scheduled elsewhere and did not know if the work would continue on Saturday.

Mike with Alphonse, our GAiN Benin host who translated for us.

What a treat to be in this community again for this special day of enjoying the start of a new chapter and celebrating God’s provision of a new meeting place.

Choir getting ready to celebrate.

This all started with a well, then a church plant and now a new building to serve the community. It is clear they have out grown their 15×20 ft church building!

This chapter is closing for the LIFE Team, and their trip home starts tonight. It is amazing how they come in as strangers and end up so close after just ten days together. The intensity of the experience pressed all of the team toward a significance level of transparency. Their experience has been filled with lots of common events, but each person is taking home a unique perspective based on their own personal engagement with this trip. One person commented, “My heart has changed.”

Our team… from strangers to teammates to friends in team days!

They were so incredibly thankful to God and everyone that helped support this trip to make it possible!

February 12

Today was a R&R day. The LIFE Team played tourist in the morning and went shopping in the afternoon. Their tourist experience was a guided tour of the four km Slave Road that leads from Ouidah to the ocean shore, pictured above, where over one million slaves were loaded on boats headed for Europe, North and South America.

The Slave Road consists of six main stages, including Plaza Chacha, where enslaved people who arrived were auctioned, and the “Tree of Oblivion,” which was replanted in 1992 and commemorates the tree where men went around nine times and women seven so that, in accordance with the voodoo tradition, they would forget their origin.

The “Zomai House,” where slaves waited for the arrival of the so-called slave ships and the “Memorial of Zoungbodji,” the mass grave where dead slaves were thrown.

Memorial of Zoungbodji

Here is the “Tree of Return” where men and women would go around three times, in accordance with the voodoo tradition, so that their souls return to their land of origin after their death.

The route ends where the ships used to arrive, today symbolized with the artistic work “The Door of No Return”. Even though we only walked about one km of the route, it was gripping to literally walk in the steps of over one million people who faced the brutal reality of the slave trade.

Our lunch was just a short distance from “The Door of No Return” with a view of the beach where the slaves took their final steps on the soil of their homeland.

After lunch we engaged in a favorite past time of many… shopping.

Richard and Annette having fun.

February 11

The LIFE Team’s day was spent in a village where they provided their unskilled labour to the construction team of three that was building a new church. The church was planted in 2018 after a GAiN well was drilled in that same year, and has grown to 25 adults and 35 children. They have outgrown their current 15 x 20 ft building.

Someone has not read the safety rules!

The new church is 25 x 50 ft. The cement pillars that will support the roof were poured on Tuesday. The team’s task for the day was to help construct rafters and if they had time, the roof of metal sheets. All the work is being done with hand tools, no power tools. The framing material is teak poles, no milled lumber. The floor will be sand and the walls will be make by the church members from the branches of palm trees. This simple structure costs about $2800 and has been sponsored by a Canadian donor.

John working hard.

Take a look at this shot of one of the workers. What do you notice? Bare feet and look at the tool he’s using.  

The women on the LIFE Team were invited to visit in the homes of two of the church members. One of the ladies operated a small village shop out of her home. Both provided warm hospitality. This is by far the most developed village we have visited.

The team’s role was very much of “carpenter’s helpers”. They helped cut and carry poles and did a lot of observing. Maybe that was a good thing because it was 32 degrees with no wind. It was amazing to see how very creative the workers are with the material they have! The goal of getting all the framing completed for the roof was not accomplished. With one more day of work the roof will be complete. Then the church members will finish the walls and sand floor.

Mike was breaking some rules by being up here!

Monique helped a woman collect fire wood. The team trusted this new building will create space for growth for this local church.

What a satisfying experience to help and also observe the life of this community around the LIFE Team. What a great team!

February 10

It was GAiN t-shirt day. The arrival gift from GAiN Canada was a t-shirt and a hat. We looked so clean, but that didn’t last long!

The team’s morning departure was delayed because of mechanical problems with one of the cars. Once that was addressed, they headed out to observe a training session organized to equip church members in the area where they were last night. They are called Action Groups and are made up of volunteers who will provide encouragement and help to the men and women who indicated a desire to follow Jesus. Mike and Rob are very familiar with the content of the training because it is similar to resources they used with students when they served on campuses in Canada. It is so interesting to see how small children accompany their mothers and seem to be content.

Lunch was a road side experience. The LIFE Team parked beside a village church. When participants asked about the church, it was clear there was no connection but we were assured it was okay to stop and use the benches for their lunch.

The women decided to do some exploring. They said it was to check out the vegetation in the area, which may have been code for finding an appropriate spot for a bathroom break.

The next stop was the home of a pastor who helps coordinate the activity and training in this area. GAiN is doing a pilot project to help support village pastors through a “chicken project” for economic development. A Canadian chicken farmer is providing the resources for this pilot in three locations. In a short time, 100 chickens will arrive at their new home. Here is a shot of the new chicken coup and the pastor with his family.

After dinner and the team debrief from the day, the word ice cream was heard! Within minutes, a GAiN staff member volunteered to take the team to a local ice cream shop. Looks good doesn’t it? What a great way to end the day.

Rob, Annette, Richard, Monique, Lyndon and Micah

February 9

The GAiN office is very near the ocean. In fact, we can see it from the rooftop meeting area. Our schedule has been so full, today was the first opportunity to walk on the beach. Even that visit was cut short because of an unexpected special visitor.

Everyone looks so serious, someone asked a thoughtful question.

The former ambassador to Canada from Benin joined the team! Rob built a relationship with Mr. Loko through his work with the Christian Embassy in Ottawa and invited him to meet the team. Mr. Loko described his engagement with GAiN Canada and his assistance in launching GAiN Benin, which included the arrival of the first drilling rig. His involvement was a huge benefit to the ministry!

The afternoon and evening might be a highlight of the trip for some team members. They travelled to a village for the commissioning of a well. The well pad was poured on February 2, and today the well was flushed through the use of high-pressure air pumped into the well casing.

Near the end of this process, the villagers were given the green light to collect water. It was such a frenzy of excitement. The team couldn’t even imagine how they were processing water shooting out of a pipe in the ground! The women and children were trying to collect as much as possible.

Joel on the move!

Inspired by the women and children, each of the team members attempted to carry a container of water on their heads to a villager’s home. This provided great entertainment and laughter for the locals. Some of the participants were not so good and got cooled off in the process.

Rob working hard

After the flush, bleach was added to the well casing. The PVC water tube was inserted into the casing and the pump was installed. Look at the smile on the face of this first woman to test the new pump.

Following the completion of the pump installation, the GAiN team organized games for about 100 kids. Each child got some kind of special treat before the competition was over. Smiles everywhere!

The DRIME team, using a combination of mime and drama, portrayed the story of Jesus’ love and sacrifice.

The last event of the evening was the showing of the JESUS Film in the Fon language. The film is a dramatic depiction of the gospel of Luke that has been translation into over 1,000 languages. After the DRIME presentation and JESUS Film, several people indicated a decision to follow Jesus.

What a great day!

As you might guess, a key link in providing wells is the drilling rig and team. Today, the LIFE Team travelled to an active drilling site. It was about a two-hour drive over some roads that were more like a path than a road. It is hard to imagine how the drill rig managed the trip. Each village makes a commitment to provide housing and food for the drill team, security for the rig, and water for the drilling process. In this case, the closest water source is about 2/3 of a kilometer away.

The team, guided by some of villagers, walked to the village water source. As you can see in this picture, a 5-gallon plastic container is being filled.  

They left this site and travelled to another village that was even more remote to join the GAiN work crew and help with another pump pad. The LIFE Team was far more efficient after the experience on day two. As they drove to this site, the team noticed an increased number of symbols connected to Voodoo activity.    

John, an accountant, working hard!

This community also has a population of just under 400 with no existing church presence. Their current water source is three km away. The anticipation for the well may explain why the team had a constant group of spectators. Plus, in this remote area, the village may have never had foreign visitors.   

The finished work gets a date stamp and a prayer of dedication.

Micah signing our handy work!

As the team traveled to this village, they passed through rich agricultural lands with pineapple, palm groves and our first sighting of cattle. Here are a few photos:

The LIFE Team’s day started with an introduction to the GAiN Benin staff team. GAiN was launched in Benin by GAiN Canada in 2005 and has since resulted in 1,756 wells. Through the local church, GAiN has helped build 591 village churches, and in rural Benin, 25% of the of the population are drinking water from wells provided by GAiN!

Map of the wells provided this past year.

It’s one thing to hear numbers and quite another to see first hand what is happening. The LIFE Team visited two villages today. The first was a village where the well was provided in 2016. This particular well was a memorial to a woman named Helena. It is significant that the legacy of this woman has provided live-giving water for the past seven years!

When the team first arrived, women were lined up to fill their large bowls with water. The team took turns pumping to help fill their bowls, and the women enjoyed watching their efforts.

Ralph pumping. What a way to celebrate his 70 birthday!

It was truly amazing to watch the women leave carrying the water on their heads. They sang a song as a way to share their appreciation. An elder from the village told us that before this well they had to travel 15 km for water!

The second village had a 72 meter well with a hand pump, but the work of pumping from that depth was difficult. GAiN provided a storage tower and solar panel to serve this village.

There was steady stream of women and children coming to get water. They lingered and enjoyed conversations and questions, thanks to some translation. To express appreciation, the team was given a bag of oranges and pineapples. Benin is an agricultural country with agricultural products as their main export.

What an incredible experience to see the results of kindness and generosity of so many Canadians who have given to the work in this country. Clean water saves lives and transforms communities! Here’s one last photo.

Mike and his new friend.

Today, the Benin LIFE Team visited a church that was planted in conjunction with a well provided in 2019. The church members welcomed the team warmly. Rob, one of the team members, gave the message in French and then it was translated into the local language which is Fon.

Colorful and energetic are two words that come to mind when others reflect on the service. Worship was filled with drums, dance, songs and responsive prayer. The people brighten the very simple worship center with their colorful clothing and joyful worship.

After the sermon, the pastor expressed his appreciation for the LIFE Team’s visit and for the blessing of clean water. He then invited each of them to share why we came to Benin and about themselves. It is clear that time is viewed in a different way here. This was a lengthy service, everyone was clearly enjoying the opportunity to hear their stories. Even the children listen and seem content to linger with their parents.

Richard and Annette

The well in this location is unique. Most of the wells in this area have hand pumps. This well is 67 meters/220 feet deep so an electric pump is needed to bring the water to the surface. The storage tank allows for the water to be stored and dispensed.

This crystal-clear water is in stark contrast to the water from the local stream which was the former source of water for the village.

It was a wonderful day for the LIFE Team to catch glimpses of what a well has accomplished in a village; a clear illustration of the impact of clean water and the living water in this spot.

After 35 hours of travel, the LIFE Team arrived in Benin on February 3! The group of 11 consists of GAiN staff Lyndon and Monique, Cycling 4 Water team members Mike and Rob, as well as 7 others who support the work of GAiN.

The LIFE Team is travelling to different villages in Benin where they can interact with locals and be immersed in the environment. They will also experience the water crisis first-hand as well as see the impact that clean water and the message of the gospel can have on villages.

Mike, one of the team members from Cycling 4 Water, wrote an update on their first day in Benin:

After what felt like a very short night of sleep, breakfast and orientation, we joined the Benin GAiN team to build the well pad in a village outside the city of Cotonou. Leaving the highway, we turned onto a dirt road which became progressively more path like along the way. It almost seemed impossible that this village of mostly thatched roofed huts could exist so close to the modern city of Cotonou. Our task was outlined by the well pad forms positioned around the well casing.

Our GAiN crew quickly divided us into groups with specific assignments, which included preparing the rebar, mixing the sand, gravel and cement, and setting the forms into position. The cement was prepared with nothing other than shovels on the ground!

This was hard work especially since the temperature had passed the 30 degree mark and at least half of our Canadian team are age 65 plus. As the final touches were being added to the pump pad, some of the villagers assembled.

Singing led by the pastor’s wife created a joyful atmosphere filled with anticipation for the clean water this well would soon bring to the village of approximately 400 people.

Yes, this was hard work but you may remember early on in the preparation for cycling we said the same thing: “Wow this will be hard but it would be a lot harder to watch your children die because they do not have clean water.”

After spending a week in Benin on a LIFE Team Vision Trip with Global Aid Network (GAiN), Rachel Botma had visited enough villages to see the contrast between communities with access to clean water and those without.

“Just to see the enormous impact that having clean water has on a community was really something. You could really tell the difference between the communities with and without. Not just wells, but churches, too. There seemed to be so much more life, joy and vigour at the minimum.”

It was back in March 2019 that Rachel, along with her mother and four other team members, joined GAiN to Benin to see the work that is being done on the field through the Water for Life Initiative program.

“I have been wanting to get involved in some kind of humanitarian project or volunteer for an NGO for quite a while but never found the right opportunity for me,” Rachel, explained. “Clean water and access to clean water is something that is near and dear to me; something I have been quite passionate about for some time. When I heard about the work that GAiN was doing, [providing] wells for underserved communities and villages, it was something that I knew I wanted to get involved with.”

With this being her first ever trip to Africa, and first trip to a developing country, Rachel signed up with no expectations. She quickly found herself shocked, but says it was a necessary shock.

“We pretty much jumped right into seeing the villages, which I think was really great because it jump-started a lot of powerful conversations and a lot of brainstorming. It was really wonderful for me to pick the brains and hear others pick the brains of some movers and shakers in the humanitarian space. It was quite inspirational for me.”

She recalled the first village they visited, Guede Codji, which was the first village to receive a deep-capped water well from GAiN in 2005.

The team learned about how a lack of clean water exacerbates gender inequality in places like Benin, where women and girls have to give up educational and career opportunities because they are tasked with fetching water for the family. In places where a water source is a few kilometres away, women are often put in danger situations must risk their safety to get water that is contaminated.

“Often these women get sexually assaulted on their journeys for water. That to me was such a horrible reality because they don’t have a choice and they have to put themselves in jeopardy every single day.”

An encounter with a local teenage girl and her father really stuck with her and highlighted the gender inequality issue even more.

“Another conversation that really stood out to me as a huge cultural issue is just how much the girls are expected to work, and how the men just don’t see a problem with it. The most extreme situation we saw was with this 16 year-old girl, Clarice, and her father. When I first saw Clarice, I said to my mother, ‘Wow, that young girl must be nine months pregnant with twins.’ Turns out, she has sclerosis of the liver.”

There was another team member on the trip, named Abel, who happened to be a doctor and was able to talk to Clarice’s father about her medical history. It was her second time developing the condition. Abel advised Clarice to take it easy, telling her father not to let her carry anything heavy and to send her to a doctor. While Clarice and her father seemed to understand and agree, Rachel was very disappointed when she saw that not more than 15 minutes later, Clarice was carrying large pails of water over her head as her father watched on his bicycle.

“The point of this story is to show just what a woman or girl must endure without say, the expectations of them, their lack of rights, and also dignity,” Rachel explained.

Not only did Rachel witness gender inequality in the field, she also saw what the reality was like for villages without a clean water source versus villages with wells.

“One thing that really struck home for me was seeing the water source of one of the villages, which they called a river but was nothing more than a stagnant swamp — smell included. During our time there, we got to see a well constructed and become operational for that village. [It’s] crazy to think [that] what we take for granted, something as simple as water, can have such a huge impact.”

She observed that the impact of clean water was truly evident in the joy of the children.

“I noticed in the communities that had [deep-capped water] wells, the children were acting like children. They were silly and playful like children should be. In the villages without wells, and especially in the villages with a lot of voodoo (which you could really feel a dark, heavy spirit), the children seemed so lifeless. No emotion; no reaction to anything. I mean, comparing the two is almost a day and night difference.”

Although it was only a little over a week long, the trip provided Rachel with multiple learning opportunities, whether it was through speaking with villagers or GAiN staff from Canada or Benin.

“It was really encouraging to meet the GAiN staff. I mean, you could feel the blessing in the GAiN house, radiating off of the staff.”

The first full day consisted of a staff meeting, giving the team an opportunity to meet most of the staff, hear their testimonies and learn about the work that they do. They had the opportunity to dance and sing together and hear a message from Patrice Lavagnon, GAiN Benin country manager, and Ray Sawatsky, GAiN’s CEO and Executive Director.

“We were able to see the community that has been built around GAiN. It was a wonderful experience. One that I had never been a part of before; non-traditional worship, and feeling its impact. It was a blessing for me to be a part of that and I am very thankful.”

And the vision trip was just the start of Rachel’s involvement with GAiN, as she hopes to stay involved in the future.

“I am interested in hearing about more opportunities for me to continue involvement whether it could be to go on another vision trip, volunteering or even employment. It is a smart organization, and one with the values that I can stand behind.”