On 26th Sept, a group of 16 volunteers from Belfast, N. Ireland, travelled to Nyeri, Kenya; our purpose was to visit the Metropolitan Sanctuary for Sick Children and support the projects and the work of the staff there. The trip was organised by Terry Fairfowl, and the whole team was excited about what we would see and do there. For some people it was their first time in Kenya, but for many it was a joyful return visit which is proof of what a brilliant and life-changing experience such a trip can be.
THE IDP CAMP
The morning after our arrival in Nyeri, the team set out to visit a group of people living in a makeshift camp on the outskirts of the town. These people are called ‘IDPs’ (Internally Displaced People) because they have been forced off their own land due to post-election tribal violence. In the IDP camp in Nyeri, the people live in extremely poor conditions: their homes are little more than shelters made from plastic bags. This was shocking enough on the hot, dry day that we visited, but in rainy or chilly conditions is unimaginably difficult.
Such a vulnerable community has very few employment prospects, no stability, and little opportunity to change their circumstances. However, we were all struck by how joyful many of them were, despite their hardship. We had a time of teaching and worship, and their energy and enthusiasm was great to see. The team had purchased some essentials to distribute at the camp - blankets, flour, and some toys for the children - which were gladly and gratefully received with some individuals dancing and singing for joy.
One hugely exciting and encouraging moment was when a young boy, Joseph Munene, was brought to the gathering by his grandmother in one of the standing frames made at our workshop in the Sanctuary!
This meant that he was able to be right in the middle of what was going on along with his friends and family, rather than having to be left at home. You can read more about Joseph on our ‘Changed Lives’ page.
What we saw at the IDP camp is something none of us will forget, and our hearts and prayers will continue to go out to the people there, even as we focus on further practical ways to help them.
Nyeri is a sizeable town of around 130,000 people, with a lively main shopping area full of traffic and bustling markets. The Sanctuary is found about 10 minutes from the town centre in a village called Kamakwa. After attending the displaced peoples’ camp, those who hadn’t visited the Sanctuary before got the chance to explore it properly, which was a very special experience.
Seeing the medical and day care facilities first hand was so impressive, as was the workshop of the Sanctuary Artists who produce not only the ACE cardboard postural control chairs, but also a range of gorgeous original paper and card products which are then sold to raise much-needed funds for the daily running of the Sanctuary. The women in the workshop enjoy their work together, and were happy to show off the fruits of their labours.
Kenya is a beautiful country, and Nyeri has lush green countryside and deep red soil. Its fertile land means that crops grow well and Jason Allen has recently started cultivating tomatoes and peppers in a large greenhouse, the proceeds of which will contribute to the work of the clinic. It was great to see the abundance of the produce, and this work is set to expand too.
On Sunday, the team were able to attend the church which is on-site and pastored by Jason. Everyone enjoyed the service, which involved a lot more music, dancing and leaping than most were used to! The clinic cares for the spiritual as well as the physical and emotional needs of its patients, and families of disabled children are offered prayer and counsel if they wish in addition to the therapy their children receive. We were thrilled to see that around 30 people from the IDP camp we had visited previously made it to church that Sunday, and two of them decided to become Christians during the service!
During the week, the Sanctuary held a clinic for disabled children which saw around 50 mothers and children arrive for free consultation, therapy and treatment. In Kenya, medical treatment must be paid for and therefore the clinic is a lifeline for families who otherwise would not be able to afford to help their disabled child. Jolene Allen works tirelessly as an occupational therapist in the clinic with a team of dedicated medical staff.
The team helped with distributing tea to the mothers and porridge to the children upon their arrival, and later a nutritious lunch was provided for each child and family member.
Many of the team also enjoyed interacting with the people who had come to the clinic; we realised that in some cases parents were a little taken aback that a stranger would take an interest in and admire their child with a disability. Often such a reaction is unexpected in a culture in which disability is still stigmatised. Part of the work of the Sanctuary is educational, attempting to challenge this stigma and to foster respect for each individual life no matter what.
There were always a few members of the team in the day care facility, talking and playing with the children there who are looked after during the day because they would otherwise be left at home alone while their family members went out to work. The day care facility caters for around 40 children per week on average. The children here have a range of physical and learning difficulties, and they are given a full programme of activities to keep them occupied, including arts and crafts, music therapy, sensory toy play, dark room therapy, and textures and water play.
HOME, HOSPITAL AND PRISON VISITS
A small group from the team visited the paediatric and burns units in the Nyeri Provincial General Hospital. Here, we gave out boxes full of small treats and toys that had been gathered together for the purpose. Toy cars, bracelets, sweets, colouring pencils and hairclips all featured and were happily received by the children in the wards. It was good to see the bright paintings which some of the team members had painted on the walls during a previous trip, back in 2011! The conditions in the hospital were far from what we would expect at home, and it made us realise how much we take for granted.
A very special part of the trip was the opportunity to go on home visits, accompanying members of staff at the clinic as they visited patients in their own homes. These were sometimes for a medical check-up or to deliver a piece of equipment (such as an ACE support chair), and sometimes just to check in with the patient outside of the clinic. It was a humbling and a sobering experience to see the conditions in which some of the children live, and we felt very privileged to be allowed to visit them.
A group of team members also visited the prison where Pastor Irwin Rea led a time of teaching and worship for a group of prisoners who had just completed a six-week Bible study programme. The team brought Bibles to present to the prisoners, as well as toothbrushes, toothpaste and some sweets and chewing gum. Jason visits the prison regularly, so this was an extension of a ministry that is already well established.
An exciting development that occurred while we were there was that two members of the Kenyan government who came to view the facilities: the Speaker of the County Assembly of Nyeri, the Hon. David Mwangi Mugo, and the Hon. Joe Kingori, the Nyeri County Representative for Persons with Disability. They were very impressed with what is in place and enjoyed their time at the Sanctuary, seeing the set-up and meeting some of the children in the day care centre.
We also had a ‘breaking of ground’ ceremony to officially recognise the new land recently acquired by The Sanctuary, adjoining the current site. We have high hopes that this land will be used to extend the facilities of the Sanctuary, and we look forward to reporting more on this as things develop.
The trip to Nyeri was one not to be forgotten, and it has made a great impression to those of us who had the privilege of going there. The people of Kenya are very special indeed, and the land itself is absolutely beautiful. We saw the work that’s happening there already with great joy and thankfulness, especially for Jason and Jolene Allen and their team of Kenyan co-workers who labour at The Sanctuary week in and week out (regardless of whether 16 Northern Irish people are around to help out or not!)
It was also a brilliant chance to get to know the other members of the team, and strong friendships were made while we worked alongside one another. Without exception, everyone who went on the trip had an amazing experience and all of us left hoping to have the chance to return in the future. The perspective on life that such a journey brings is very special, and we all felt truly blessed by our time in Kenya.
The team have returned with renewed enthusiasm to tell more people, raise more money and help more children with disabilities in the Nyeri region. We have seen first-hand how vital the work is there, and it’s only with help from others that more can be done for these precious people. By raising money yourself, donating to Befrienders For Disability, or even going out to Kenya to use your gifts in a practical way, you are assured that everything you offer will be put to good use, and will be a direct help to the children who need you.
'The more you are enriched by God the more scope there will be for generous giving, and your gifts, administered through us, will mean that many will thank God. For your giving does not end in meeting the wants of your fellow-Christians. It also results in an overflowing tide of thanksgiving to God. Moreover, your very giving proves the reality of your faith, and that means that men thank God that you practise the Gospel that you profess to believe in, as well as for the actual gifts you make to them and to others.’ - 2 Corinthians 9:11-13 (trans. JB Phillips)