Second phase of exchange begins


One month into the second phase of my Canada World Youth (CWY) exchange takes me to Allada, Bénin, located one hour north of Cotonou, the economic capital of the country.

Bénin, located on the West Coast of Africa, has a population of more than nine million people and is often referred to as one of the more stable democracies on the continent. Through the influence and affects of French colonization, Bénin’s official language is French, although there are various local dialects such as Fon, which is spoken in the southern region of the country.

After a four-day orientation session where we toured Cotonou and settled into a new culture and environment, we arrived in Allada and visited each volunteer project before greeting our new host families.

Our family is well respected within the community as its original ties to the kingdom of Abomey, the largest royal kingdom in Bénin, lends itself to the their pride and traditional role as the official fabricator of all cast metals. Royal rings, bracelets, necklaces, figures and even the money of the royal kingdom were cast out of precious metals and made exclusively by the family. Although this function is no longer carried out directly by my immediate host family, the original link through an ancient king’s brother tells a history of handed down customs and legends.

Once during a time of war within the territory, the king wanted to make sure his children were protected from the injustices of fighting. He sent an order to distinguish his children by marking two scars on each side of the forehead beside their eyes. These ancestral markings have been carried on for generations, but this tradition seems to be declining as the grandparents begin to deny the ceremony given the growth of the family.

Along with the knowledge passed down by my host grandmother, there have been many interesting first impressions during the initial month.

The local market comes to Allada every fifth day as it rotates each surrounding community, bringing commerce from around the region. With the market comes an influx of people buying the freshly displayed foods and local produce, tables of bright coloured fabrics and homemade carts full of a variety of products. The flurry of activity and movement of goods around Allada flies by as sacks of rice piled on a motorcycle, a basket of peanuts perched on a woman’s head or a car jammed to the roof full of oranges. The fruit is endless and the dust is everywhere.

With just two months left we are already planning our midway project evaluation where we’ll travel north for a four-day retreat. As the Béninois phase began with a new sense of energy for the program, our involvement within the community through our volunteer projects will continue to grow over the coming weeks as we discover a new culture and country.

Remember you can follow my exchange and CWY experience as my adventures continue in Allada, Bénin at

© 2009 Read More!

The Beginnings in Bénin

A fon an! Bonjour depuis le Bénin!

It’s been a while since I last sent out an email update! I know that I owe quite a few replies so hopefully this email counts towards some as our internet here in Allada, Bénin isn’t very dependable. And…if you’ve recently sent me an email don’t worry as I’ll get to it soon!

Leaving our Canadian host community of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec, was a sure sign that we had past the half way point of our exchange. It was the compilation of our Canadian program where we had been hosted by a welcoming community and host families that truly embraced the program.

We left for Montreal during the early morning of October 30 where we had a final orientation on health with another group that was hosted in Terrebonne, Québec and headed to Dassa, Bénin. Before making sure everyone was good to go with the baggage restrictions we left for the airport to start our wait and travel with a changeover in Paris. It couldn’t have been an easy trip through the Air France ticket counter as there were four of us in the group who didn’t exactly have assured tickets for the remaining trip from Paris to Cotonou, Bénin. It ended up that there was just a ticket issuing error and in the end we caught the same plane as the group, but that never stopped us from hoping for a free night in Paris!

We arrived in Bénin during the night of Halloween and headed for what would be our compound for the next few days as we attended an orientation retreat. We had a session on the environment and its relation to our program, explored the city, the beach, and just had some time to adjust to the new time zone, heat, environment and culture.

Some first impressions of Bénin include the endless amount of street vendors and little shops set up along the path of the road that sometimes sell the largest variety of items. The ‘zims’ or motortaxis are everywhere. Imagine 40 Canada World Youth participants all following each other as a pack weaving throughout Cotonou. Actually there are quite a few comparisons to my Rotary Youth Exchange year in Thailand.

Our arrival in our new host community of Allada on Tuesday November 3 was met with a grand welcome from all the new host families and an introduction to the community. We quickly toured each volunteer project to understand the organizations and their objectives so that everyone could choose their project for the next three months.

The volunteer project that I chose didn’t turn out to be the best project to learn from, but rather a project to pass our time and work for a company. I had been working with a pineapple juice cooperative known as IRA and took the last two weeks to learn each stage of the process. After trying to get the administration to allow us to spend more time looking into how we could support the cooperative with new initiatives such as an entrance in the European Union or an evaluation of the production efficiencies, the four of us who had been volunteering will move to a new project in the coming week.

There are several different volunteer projects, but I’ll get into the details of them in future updates.

My host family has been super since our arrival and always ready to cook a variety of new dishes for me to taste. The family that immediately lives with us includes our host mom, two sisters (14 and 3), a grandma, an uncle and his wife, and their son who is 1. Our other uncles and aunts visit often, but also many people from within the community drop by to get council from our grandma who is looked upon as an elder and advisor.

Also….Movember lives on in Africa and for the second year in a row I’m growing out a moustache to support the Movember campaign to raise awareness and education on prostate cancer. For over a week it was a handlebar moustache, but now it’s down to a regular old moustache….HA!

Anyways I will try and write an update at least every two weeks where I could post an article, write some thoughts, or just post some photos.

Remember to follow my updates at and check out our group website at

Kai from Bénin Read More!