Tapping into ‘Wells of Joy’


In Holland, Jolanda Bontenbal (pictured left) trained and worked as a District Nurse. Now in Malawi she is putting that training into practice as she co-ordinates the work of a local charity, ‘Wells of Joy’

The Malawian charity ‘Wells of Joy’ is approaching its 15th anniversary and after a quiet start it has seen significant development and change over the last five or six years. One of the latest changes has seen SIM Malawi missionary Jolanda Bontenbal take up the post of Co-ordinator and become more responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation along with its Director, Ethel Changa.

Jolanda was first introduced to Wells of Joy by fellow Dutch missionary Marjan van den Bos when the Bontenbal’s first arrived in Malawi. Marjan invited Jolanda to get involved, which she did helping on the clinic at the Nyaka Centre and also getting involved in Home-Based Care visits.

Jolanda reading the Bible as part of a home visit

Good opportunity

“In Holland I trained as a nurse and worked for a while as a district nurse,” said Jolanda.

“I knew that when I came to Malawi, with my husband Nico, that I wanted to get involved in some way with the health sector but didn’t know how that would be. Having seen what Wells of Joy was doing and hearing from Marjan about the plans, it seemed a good opportunity and so I started to help out.”

But her helping out took a major change in August 2014 after Marjan informed people that she and her husband would be moving away from Malawi to start a new work in Ethiopia. Jolanda was asked if she would consider taking over the work which Marjan was doing. At first there was a great deal of reluctance on Jolanda’s part but God had other ideas!

“I was really unsure about taking on the work which Marjan had done and getting more involved in the ways that Wells worked and would work in the future,” she said.

Confirmation confirmed

“But then I remembered the verse which was given to me at my Confirmation in Holland. Isaiah 58:10-11says: ‘If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.’

Wells of Joy volunteers learning how to make natural medicines

“After that there was no doubt in my mind that God wanted me to take on this work and I did so willingly!”

But Jolanda then had to go through a time of change herself. Although she had trained and qualified as a nurse in Holland, she had to go through a tough two-month registration period to be allowed to practise as a nurse in Malawi. This involved working in local government and private hospitals around Blantyre, covering a number of specialities before she was allowed to practise on her own behalf.

Wells of Joy started life as a small prayer group of people who wanted to help in their area but were unsure what to do and where to set it up. That was back in 2000. Slowly they were able to develop a small food programme for the most vulnerable people in their area, people so chronically sick that they were unable to work.

After this came a small clinic set up on the Khonde (veranda) of a local house. Soon a small hut became home for a day-care centre for orphans. And this is how Wells of Joy operated, albeit under the ‘Prayer Watch Network’ banner, for a number of years.

Major change

A big change came when a Norwegian church group donated money which allowed the building of the first Wells of Joy centre in Nyaka village. This centre, built by a Dutch organisation, offers a clinic, a day-care centre and a training room. There is also a large covered outdoor area which is used to help train women in the area in new crafts and skills. Additionally, there is a large garden in which a variety of plants are grown, a number of which are used in the production of natural medicines.

“One area of my work is with the volunteers who help out at Wells of Joy,” said Jolanda.

“They help in a number of ways, including visiting patients in the Home-Based Care programme. I have been trained in the preparation of natural medicines and so I am able to teach to the volunteers. We make a range of ointments which are good for the kind of skin problems we regularly see and also a tincture which is good for boosting the immune system, something vital for those suffering from HIV/AIDS. They make these products and then take them round to patients on their visits.”

But there is a strong spiritual side to the work as well. Jolanda will regularly pray for patients in the clinic and always when she visits them in their own homes. She is also working with the volunteers to have them involved in regular devotions and Bible study, and encourages them to take what they learn and share it with the patients they see on their visits.

So as Jolanda gets used to her new job, what does the future look like?

“We now have two centres, with the second at the BCA Township, also near Limbe, being opened recently, offering the same kind of programmes as the Nyaka centre,” she said.

Forward with confidence

“I am still getting used to my new rôle but what is helping is that a local doctor has become involved with the clinic at Nyaka. He actually lives in one of the villages near the Nyaka centre so that is a big help and having him take part in the clinic is good

“Looking a bit further ahead we have constructed a new ward which we hope to open as an in-patient facility for children suffering from malnutrition, which is a big problem in rural Malawi. The building is there but it may still take some time before it can be fully operational; that is something we are working towards.

“For longer than that, we need prayer: prayer for the volunteers to get better involved with daily devotions and to grow in their faith and have the confidence to share it, prayer for the direction which God wants Wells of Joy to develop, and prayer for me personally as I try to help steer the organisation into that future.”