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JESSICA EXPERIENCES BENIN

Story by Jessica Starkins, Community Health Project Manager for GAiN’s Water for Life Initiative

There I was. It had taken three days of travel but I had finally made it to the villages of Benin, West Africa. I had begun working for Global Aid Network (GAiN) in the middle of COVID lockdowns so this was my first opportunity to see a Water for Life Initiative project and to meet the people I had been working with for months. 

 

It was a full day of driving to reach the Basila region of north Benin. Swerving ducks, dogs and goats and vehicles filled with cotton, coal, pineapple and live animals. After a gratefully air-conditioned night in Basila, we set out to a village called Camp Peulh Odo. It wasn’t long before we were off the main road and bashing through what seemed like a walking path. We bumped along at about 5km/hr, scraping the car along branches and squeezing between trees in seemingly impossible spaces. In the car, Alphonse Houenoukpo, the Community Development Manager at GAiN Benin, explained that we were going to a Fulfulde community. They are a traditionally muslim people group considered to be unreached by the gospel due to less than 2% of them being Christians. The Fulfulde are traditionally cattle farmers so are hard to reach and very dispersed. Alphonse told us that when they first came to this village to do initial assessments, the people didn’t believe they would actually get a water well because many had come and promised them clean water but it was never received. They learned that they are very untrusting people but once they understand that you have come for good, they will open their hut to you, take you in as one of their own and offer you the best they have to welcome you. We are partnering with a local pastor who  told us that he had come two or three times to this village to share Jesus with them but they did not listen to what he had to say. When GAiN came to provide a  deep-capped water well they were initially very skeptical, but afterwards realised we had come for good.

We finally arrived at the village and there were people gathered around the well. One woman was sweeping around it. Our initial impression was that this village looked very well kept and clean! Even their well was protected with a wooden fence to keep the animals away, which is unusual to see. The Water for Life Initiative is supported  by people donating through GAiN offices all around the world so I was excited to see that my first well visit was one funded by GAiN Australia! We were greeted by many people at the well and I had a turn at pumping my first well. I was amazed at how clear the water was as it came out, especially because it was so hot and humid. That water looked like gold to me! What an incredible technology. 

 

We spoke with a local man who arrived on his motorcycle. He filled four jerry cans with clean water to take back to his family. He shared with us that his wife works as a pharmacist and has seen a reduction in the amount of sick people coming to her to purchase medications now that they have access to clean water. Their previous water source was a river 3km from there that was also used by animals. People would defecate in the river  and his wife noticed that many came to her with symptoms of typhoid. These people had no other choice but to use this dirty and diseased water. But now, over 600 people come to this new well to receive safe, life-giving water.

After some time spent in this village, we continued on our rough journey to a church that was planted a couple kilometres away as a result of the JESUS Film being shown in this village. The church was planted in between this village and a further village that also received a well from GAiN. We found out that this church encountered severe spiritual opposition as it was getting built. GAiN contracted a carpenter to build this church and on his route to this job, his apprentice got sick and died, his helper also died and his wife went into labour and lost their child. He became terrified and said he could not build this church. A second carpenter was contracted and when he arrived he physically could not put the nails through the wood. None of this could be explained. With many people praying, the power of God overpowered the spiritual darkness and the third carpenter, with new building materials, was finally able to build the church. After visiting with two women from this church, Rebecca and Christine, it was easy to see why there were attempts to stop this church from being built. These women and their husbands were so passionate about bringing Jesus to their community that they mentioned this as their first prayer request to us. They meet three times a week and on Fridays pray all through the night. When we asked them what they would say to anyone that wanted to deny God, one of the young husbands shot his hand into the air and said, “No one can convince me to go back”. Rebecca said that she can see the misery of those who do not have Jesus and denying him would mean going back to that suffering.

I can’t believe how encouraging my first village visit was. Through the donation of a generous Australian through the fundraising efforts of GAiN Australia, hundreds of lives have been changed. One of my biggest learnings from my first trip to Benin was how truly interconnected the program is. From one well comes so much! Less disease, less time spent collecting water, empowered women, and ultimately people coming to trust GAiN and our partnering local church, which opens doors to sharing God’s love. When you give to the Water for Life Initiative, you are giving a community so much more than clean water, you’re giving them Living Water that never runs dry. And now I have seen it with my own eyes.