15 December 2017

The Metropolitan Sanctuary for Sick & Disabled Children

ra1The Metropolitan Sanctuary for Sick and Disabled Children opened its doors in 2007. It is a clinic, but so much more, offering free medical and rehabilitation services in Kenya. There is a clinical team of medical and nursing staff, an occupational therapist, an orthopaedic technologist who fabricates prosthetics on site, as well as a supportive administration and catering team who provide free bread and meals everyday. The Sanctuary cares for up to 3,000 children plus their carers each year.

The first people to arrive in Kenya from the Metropolitan Tabernacle asked the local people one simple question, ”How can we help you?” The reply was startling. “We want somewhere for our sick children to die.” Thus the process of acquiring land and employing local staff began. Additional facilities were added as we realised the full scope of the great need in the local area. Over 300 volunteers from the church worked and built on the compound over the first 3 years as the work developed. Jason and Jolene Allen now work there as full-time missionaries with their children.

This is the story of how one aspect of the Sanctuary, the workshops, came into being and radically changed the home lives of all involved.

raIt was a fairly typical home visit when we first arrived in Kenya in the summer of 2010. Each Thursday the clinical staff and I went out into the villages and visited the disabled in their own homes, to offer both spiritual and clinical support to those who were unable to make it into the Sanctuary.

The little wooden hut wouldn’t have been more than 8 x 8 ft, not bad by local standards for a family of four. We were politely ushered into the small, seated living area, carefully sectioned off from the family bed by an old curtain suspended from the leaky, tin roof. As we chatted with the mother it became clear she wasn’t going to bring her disabled daughter, Shiro, out from behind the curtain, unless prompted. She was laid in the darkened corner of the room on the bed all alone. She smiled and made her excited noises when the curtain was pushed aside and she was brought out.

I couldn’t understand this attitude, even when parents knew we were coming to visit their child – even then, a sense of shame! Cultural stigmas have always been the biggest barriers for the disabled in Kenya, at least in my experience. Old traditions of tribal leaders and witch doctors imparted down the generations, teach that a disabled child is a curse, something of disrepute, and the blame is often laid solely with the mother. Often the mothers are single, having been rejected by their husbands, their own families and in-laws. As a consequence, they are taught to hide their child away.

This is often seen in the community, but to be evident even in the privacy of the family home, grieved me deeply. The child is socially isolated.

As an occupational therapist I was alarmed at the indifference for the postural needs of the children. The children often lay on a sack on the floor or, if fortunate, a mattress or chair. As a result, the muscles contort and contractions develop easily that lead to levels of physical deformity that is simply unseen at home. Consequently, the child’s organs are compressed and breathing, swallowing and digestion are impaired. Both their quality of life and life expectancy are compromised beyond measure.

Disability chairs are very expensive and as we had hundreds of disabled on our books, I prayed much about what we could do. The Lord never fails to open doors. He led me to Assistive Paper Technology (APT), which is, making functional disability equipment from old, used cardboard boxes. We sponsored a trainer in APT and asked four mothers of disabled children to come for a training day.

So that was it. We were opening a workshop to assess for, design and fabricate disability chairs and standing frames, to provide them free to all the disabled children in the area! And we were going to employ mothers of disabled to do it! We provided a crèche for the children where they received treatment and interaction. Friendships developed between the children, and the mothers.

Within a couple of months we had a six-month waiting list for the children’s chairs. In faith, we employed another three mothers of disabled children, or ‘workshop mama’s’ as they became fondly known. To enable this, we asked people to sponsor a chair for its production cost of £25. The response was wonderful. The chairs were not only changing the lives of the children, but the work was also supporting disabled families financially – a real sense of home life. I could see the disabled children sitting upright, smiling, making eye contact with the people around them, and sitting up eating around the tables in their homes with their siblings!

Santuary Artists

The Lord opened another door. Annabelle Murray is a professional artist. Following a short trip to the Sanctuary, she became aware that there was everything on the site to make paper. Already, working with cardboard and paper were key skills of our workshop mamas, and bringing the two projects together seemed a match made in heaven!

We started tentatively with a basic training week for the mama’s using the local vegetation, flowers, old cotton rags, machetes, a liquidiser and an old wheelbarrow! By the end of the first year ‘Sanctuaryartists’ was a go! The mama’s were making beautiful handmade paper! We had hosted an International Artist Residency on-site as part of a collaborative international exhibition to promote and bring awareness to the work of the Sanctuary. The exhibition was housed at The National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi in July – September 2011 on the theme of ‘Sanctuary: Home, Away, The Common Ground’. From the paper made for the art exhibition, we saw the potential of manufacturing craft products, which would help the project be self-sustaining, generating income for the workshop and ultimately, the sanctuary itself.

It was heart-warming to see our mamas working alongside professional artists, skill-sharing and enhancing their own craft. Self-worth and achievement was tangible when they attended their private view of their ‘own’ work in their ‘own’ national museum; a far cry from the sense of abandonment and isolation they came from prior to the workshop. This first exhibition was a great success and, God-willing, the second will be held in the Brunei Gallery SAOS London in July – September 2013.

Totally funding the workshop for the year 2012 through the manufacturing of our first Christmas range in 2011, we were also able to reinvest some funds to buy professional tools and equipment. This enabled a further collaborative project with The Seacourt Print Workshop, which is currently testing paper samples to enable us to produce a quality handmade artist printing paper. It is hoped this will result in a printing exhibition within Northern Ireland – all this whilst continuing to develop and create exciting Christmas paper crafts to sustain the workshop!

We believe we are empowering mothers and disabled children. Self-help is key! They live a beautiful Christian principle; ‘to comfort those with whom you yourself have been comforted’.

Every aspect of the Sanctuary’s ministry is to further the Gospel, change the lives of the disabled, to promote inclusive attitudes to the child both in their communities and in their homes and to do so in an inspirational way and fundamentally because of the love of Christ towards them. Without the initial vision and the consistent support of the local church this work would not be possible. Without this work, these little ones would slowly perish behind the dividing curtain of a wooden hut.

Shiro now comes to the Sanctuary everyday. She has her own chair and she sits with her friends in the fresh, warm Kenyan air and her Mama pulls paper!

WORDS Jolene Allen


The Sanctuary was opened through the vision of the founder Terry Fairfowl and is supported by Pastor McConnell and The Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, Belfast.

In May 2011 The Metropolitan Church Kenya was birthed to bring the fullness of God’s Word and care to the people. It now has a congregation of 250 people.

If you are interested in supporting the work, buying a cardboard chair, or seeing our Christmas products:-


www.sanctuaryartists.org (shop and details/updates on the workshop);


(Terri Fairfowl and the Kenya team); or our family in Kenya at joleneallen7@aol.com