Our latest team trip out to Kenya took place on 20th October 2015, when 16 volunteers travelled from Belfast, Northern Ireland, to Nyeri, Kenya, to visit the Metropolitan Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is supported by Befrienders For Disability, and this was a great chance to catch up with the work of the charity, help out with the work happening there and see in action where all the support is going. 

View of Nyeri hill from The Metropolitan Sanctuary site, Kamakwa.

On the first day of our trip, the team had a training session with Jolene Allen, who manages the Metropolitan Sanctuary, along with her husband Jason who is pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Nyeri. Jolene walked the team through the latest guidelines from the global charitable community, exploring ideas such as the differing perspectives on poverty in the developed and the developing world, and how even the most well-meaning of efforts from visitors to developing countries can at times be misguided. This set us up well for the trip and gave us an idea of how to deal with different scenarios we might encounter, ensuring that we knew how to interact with the people we would meet with grace and with respect.

The Metropolitan Sanctuary, Nyeri.

Next it was our first visit to the Metropolitan Sanctuary. Around half of the team hadn’t visited Kenya before, but for the rest it was an exciting return! It was wonderful to catch up with old friends - staff at The Sanctuary and the children in day care - and there was joy on both sides as we were reunited.

Janet, a team member, meets Stephen, the child she has been sponsoring for many years. 

One of our team members, Ian, entertains Chris who lives at the Sanctuary full-time in the Rescue Centre.

It was also a chance to see the latest developments at the Sanctuary itself: in the past year, Befrienders For Disability has financed a new, secure perimeter wall for the site, as well as an extension of the facilities in the SanctuaryArtists workshop, which is now twice the size it was!

The entrance to The Metropolitan Sanctuary site, readied for the formal breaking of ground ceremony that took place during our trip.  

Granny Munene, who is employed at the SanctuaryArtists workshop, building one of the assistive cardboard chairs.

The workshop of the SanctuaryArtists is where the amazing ACE cardboard postural control chairs are produced to the unique specifications of each child. Beautiful craft and paper products are also made there and then sold to raise much-needed funds so the chairs can be distributed for free. The women in the workshop enjoy their work together, and were happy to show off the fruits of their labours. Over the week, some members of the team even had a go at making a cardboard chair themselves!

The first stage of a cardboard chair and some hand-made paper are left in the sun to dry.

Some of the hand-made SanctuaryArtists craft and paper products on sale in the UK and in Kenya. 

OFFICIAL BUSINESS

The team also helped with preparations for a special event the following day: Jason and Jolene had organised a day to showcase the Sanctuary, to which many representatives of local government and businesses had been invited. The day went extremely well, and culminated with many of the dignitaries, including the First Lady of Nyeri County, pledging their ongoing support for the work of the clinic. A ground-breaking ceremony was held, and stones were laid that will become the foundation for a new building. The vision is to construct purpose-built facilities that will enhance the work that is already being done at The Sanctuary; plans have already been drawn up and the project is a hugely exciting one. 

The First Lady of Nyeri County lays a foundation stone, accompanied by Dennis who attends the Metropolitan Sanctuary for therapy and day care.  

The foundation stones which will form part of the new, upgraded facilities at The Metropolitan Sanctuary.

CHURCH

On Sunday, the team attended the church, which is on-site and pastored by Jason Allen. Everyone enjoyed the service, which involved a lot of enthusiastic (and energetic) singing and dancing!

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. This makes the Sanctuary an important place for the whole community, not just those who have need of the medical services the clinic provides.

WANDOBI

On Monday, the matatus (minibuses) were loaded to bursting with blankets and toys. The team crammed in as well, and travelled for around 30 minutes to get to a school for children with severe learning difficulties, based at Wandobi. 

Here we were very warmly welcomed by the school staff, and treated to watching the children dancing and singing songs for us. We sang and danced with them too, and soon it was time to give out the goodies we had brought along. 

The most valuable of these from the school's perspective were lovely woollen blankets – one for each child – which had been bought thanks to the donations of the congregation at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Belfast, and other well-wishers in Northern Ireland. We held a short ceremony to hand over these gifts, and then the children were also given a teddy each (hand-knitted by a lovely lady from Northern Ireland who has donated hundreds of these over the years!) They also got sweets and lollies, and the team took the chance to play with the children, showing them how to blow bubbles, and starting an impromptu game of volleyball! 

HOME VISITS

After lunch, the team split into groups and accompanied staff members on visits to clients of the Metropolitan Sanctuary at their homes. This is a regular part of the Sanctuary’s services and is sometimes for the purpose of 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. The journeys to each dwelling take a long time on the bumpy roads, and the team were glad to stretch their legs as we hopped out of the cramped matatu

Local children walk home from school in rural Kenya.

The first home we visited belongs to a family of whom five members suffer from disability. Jonah, as you can see in the photos below, showed us his walking which he is able to do thanks to the support frames that Jolene organised for him to develop his strength. 

His uncle Samuel now has a wheelchair: when Terry Fairfowl (founder of the work in Kenya) first met this family of five, they were all forced to sit or lie on the ground day in and day out because of a lack of equipment. Now that they are clients at the Sanctuary, their quality of life has vastly improved, and they have recently moved into a new house which is a great improvement on their previous one. 

Next, we visited Vivian, who lives with her grandparents because her mother has been forced to move away for work. Vivian has severe mental difficulties, and spends the day at home tethered to the wall for her own safety. 

Vivian in her grandparents' home.

Vivian's grandparents, who are also her full-time carers.

This seems shocking to us, but is a precautionary measure that many families have to take to prevent their disabled child from harming themselves in a home that has no specialised equipment.  Vivian’s grandmother told us that although Vivian can be a challenge, she is never a burden, and that she loves her.

It is clear that coming to Day Care at The Sanctuary once a week is a huge benefit not just to Vivian herself who is able to leave her home and socialise with other children, but also for her family who enjoy some much-needed respite. 

The final visit was to Irene, who became severely disabled after contracting a high fever when she was three years old. Her mother has four other children, and her husband still lives with and supports the family, a great blessing which is not often the case in many of the families of disabled children that we see. So often, disability is still seen as a kind of curse, and this leads to many parents abandoning their disabled child in its early life. 

Jolene Allen with Irene in her family home. 

DAY CARE

Throughout the trip, 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.

Many of the craft materials, books, toys and other supplies that had been kindly donated by so many at home in Northern Ireland are put to good use here!

THE IDP CAMP

A very small number of the team visited a makeshift camp for ‘Internally Displaced Peoples’ (those who have had to leave their homes through post-election violence, for example). The reason for going was to visit two of the clients who attend the Sanctuary. The first of these is little Munene, who lives with his Granny and many other people in a tiny shack made of plastic bags.

The team members who saw it were deeply shocked at the conditions. Although Granny Munene has been offered help with housing in the past, she has always refused it because she has been waiting for the government to give her the compensation she was promised. She works in the SanctuaryArtists workshop to earn some money to support Munene and herself. 

However, one week after we returned home, the team was overjoyed to learn that Granny Munene has been granted her compensation, and she and her beloved grandson are now living in a house! Compared with her previous living quarters it is a palace, so they are both extremely happy.

Granny Munene’s friends from the SanctuaryArtists workshop helped her to move and she now enjoys the support of the community around her. We are all thrilled and delighted by this turn of events, which is the answer to many prayers!

DISTRIBUTION AT OTHAYA

Prior to the trip, we had arranged to visit some disabled groups in their communities.

The community leaders had organised for the most needy in their local area to attend a distribution day when we gave out more blankets, flour, rice, some spectacles and other disability equipment, in addition to having a time of teaching from the Bible and worship. It was a chance to make contact with these local groups, and Jolene and the team were able to make some on-the-spot assessments for cardboard chairs, and appointments to come to the Sanctuary for further therapy.

We saw around 150 people in all, and they were hugely grateful for the gifts they were given (again, made possible through the generosity of all of those at home in Northern Ireland who had contributed financially and materially to the trip).

HOSPITAL 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.

Two of the team members, Sarah and Deirdre are midwives, and they had arranged in advance to visit the maternity ward. Excitingly, while they were there they were privileged to help with the delivery of a baby girl! Her name is Glory.

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ROUNDUP

Our team went out to Kenya hoping to make a difference to the lives of the disabled children and their families who we met. We went laden with donations, both monetary and material from loved ones and supporters at home, and it was a joy to see those donations being responsibly distributed and received with such thankfulness and happiness wherever we went. However, it goes without saying that every single person who went on the trip came away from it blessed and personally enriched by their experiences, and full of enthusiasm to support the work of the Metropolitan Sanctuary in the future.

At Befrienders For Disability, we feel privileged to support this wonderful service, and we hope that our vision to see the Sanctuary become a centre of excellence for the treatment of disability in the Nyeri region will be realized with your help.  

To donate to the work of BFD and The Metropolitan Sanctuary, please visit our DONATE page.

To get in touch with us, email: info@thebefrienders.org

'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)