Its move from Bethlehem to Jordan complete, Love Into Action resumes mission to aid disabled

A variety of scenes from Love Into Action’s new center in Mafraq, Jordan. — Courtesy photos

Laurence and Sharon Garnett live in the northern Jordanian city of Mafraq, home to a large Bedouin community, as well as, of late, a host of Syrian refugees. The Garnetts, Christians from the United Kingdom, came to Jordan from Bethlehem, in the West Bank, where they had founded the Love Into Action center that served hundreds of children with severe disabilities. When, six years ago, the Israeli authorities refused to renew their visas, they began the long process of moving to Mafraq to continue their mission.

It has taken four years to ship their furniture and equipment from Bethlehem, but little about the journey was easy: Once they had settled on Mafraq, convinced by the needs in the largely underserved Bedouin community, it took a year to find a building appropriate for conversion into a new center for the most disabled people. Some landlords, on discovering their prospective tenant was a foreign organization, had demanded exorbitant rental fees. Others reneged on promises, because, it turned out, they didn’t own the buildings they were negotiating to rent.

The last shipment from the old center finally arrived in Mafraq in March. Laurence Garnett credits the Higher Council for Persons with Disabilities and the offices of Jordan’s Princess Muna Al Hussein for their help in ensuring that the customs fees were reasonable.

Things also began to settle once the rooms of the new site had been painted a fresh blue and green, and some fitted with foam on all sides, which, Laurence explains, is aimed at protecting the extremely disabled from hurting themselves. “They literally keep banging their heads until the tile is broken.” Laurence noted that, due to the constant hitting, their skulls become stronger from the excess bone that develops after so many injuries.

While the center was not yet ready to host children with extreme disabilities to stay overnight for numerous days, the Garnetts and their team of volunteers decided they could hold  activities this summer for some of the less disabled children. The team, some from the U.S., the U.K., South Africa and other locations, works with local staff and volunteers, each person assigned to one child to play with and make sure they were fed, clean and happy.

“Our motto is ‘putting love into action,’” said Laurence. “It’s what keeps us going. We try our best to show these children genuine love, and we get huge satisfaction when we can get the children to crack a smile or enjoy some basic care and help.”

The most pressing challenge, Laurence said, is medical care. While Jordan technically provides free public health care for all children under 5 and adults over 65, as well as all persons with disabilities, the reality is different, Laurence explained. “At times the problem is as simple as not being able to find transportation to get to the hospital due to their disability,” he said.

On visits to the Bedouin homes, they see parents overwhelmed with the strain of raising disabled children. “We see that some are forced to tie their children with chains so that they don’t hurt themselves or hurt others,” said Laurence. “We are pained to see this, but we understand where their families are coming from, and that is why we want to help them.”

Love Into Action aims to work with up to 50 families with severely disabled children a year. “We want to host an extremely disabled child for three nights, allowing their parents the ability to have a normal life, spend time with their other children and relax from the constant attention that their disabled child exacts on them,” he said.

In choosing Mafraq for their new center, the couple intended to help families in the Zaatari refugee camp, home to nearly 100,000 people who have fled the civil war in Syria. One of those refugees, from the western Syrian city of Homs, is volunteering with Love into Action. The mother of a disabled child herself, she is experienced with the challenges of caring for someone with disabilities with little help from others.

But Love Into Action is not just a slogan. Any visitor to the cozy center can see within moments the care and genuine attention those with disabilities are given.

With the move to Mafraq complete, the Garnetts are looking for suitable local schools for their four children, who are being homeschooled for now. And they are building a community for themselves of fellow Christians, locals and expatriates, who serve their community in a variety of ways, putting their love into action.

Daoud Kuttab

Daoud Kuttab is an author with Religion News Service.

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