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Karen / Langata Branch

As far back as 1927, before the district of Karen/Langata existed, Mrs. Helen Sprott was holding meetings of Ngong ladies at her house, on a very informal basis. As the residential district of Karen began, the need for a more formal society was felt and in August 1941, a meeting was held with Lady Baden Powell, the then National Chairman, to discuss the matter. On January 19th 1942 the Karen Branch of the EAWL was established, and Mrs. Dusart became DVP. In those days the annual subscription was 5/-per year. Mrs. Dusart's first project was to raise money for "Bombed Babies" of London and also to contribute to the Silver Jubilee Year of the League. The branch also urged the authorities to establish a post office in the area and this was done in spite of it being built in Karen. It was known as the Ngong Post Office for many years.


Mrs. Dusart was the first of many hard working and devoted DVP's. Her fund raising was amazing. She started the year with a bank deposit of 368shs 80cts, immediately withdrew 200/- for knitting wool and 100/-for a donation to the Navy fund. During the year 8,900/- was raised and donated (nearly all to wartime charities) and the final deposit was 433shs 20cts. 400/- of this was with drawn for yet more knitting wool. Later it became impossible to send goods to Britain so the goods were sold locally and the money remitted. Later on, knitting wool (imported) became impossible to obtain and the Karen ladies made many experiments with locally produced yarn.

In 1943 Mrs. Gertrude Grogan visited the branch and proposed the opening of a Kindergarten school where Miss Rogers was the first Headmistress, and later the school became the Karen Primary School of today.


It was soon realised that many members were suffering hardships because of war-time conditions and the branch setup its own very confidential Benevolence fund while still supporting HQ Benevolence. A "Market Day" and Raffle raised £400 and this amount was divided between the two funds.


Meetings were held every fortnight, usually at the Karen club and they were very much on the same lines as those of today; Tea, Coffee, Cakes, Biscuits, a speaker and friendly chat. DVP's changed regularly but funds were always raised and donations made to various charities. During the years Mrs. Fentum's name appears again and again. Chairing sub-committees, chasing up local authorities, organising Home Industries at both Branch and National level, catering at the Royal Agricultural Show, and attending all branch meetings. The list seems endless. Jane Gardner-Brown, herself a hard working member was once quoted as saying "a very busy woman has time for everything". Both Jane Gardner-Brown and Mrs. Fenturn shared a love of needlework and both were winners of the Steyn Cup. Mrs. Fentum designed and worked the Karen Scrapbook Cover, winning first prize, and also designed the Karen tapestry although Mrs. Butterfield worked this.

In 1953 Mrs. E.Clark (still a Karen member) ran a Market Stall and Luncheon Club in the town, perhaps a forerunner of the "Friday mornings" of today.


The "Wind of Change" was beginning and the Karen ladies opened and helped to run an African Women's Club. This eventually became self-run, serving lunches and teas to members, holding lessons in hygiene and home management skills, and making clothes for orphan children.


Helped by the branch the Club continued to flourish until it was taken over by a Government Development Officer when it soon folded, although it had a membership of 97 with 55 attending classes. Soon Mrs. Inglis Moore came to explain the Tapestry project. Sadly very little about this scheme and the work entailed is minuted.

By1960 the "Wind of Change'' 'had become a gale and the branch lost 33 members. But undaunted, Mrs. E. Clark established the Mother and Baby Clinic which was later taken over by the Karen branch of the Red Cross. A training scheme for African helpers was started and one of the first trainees became head of the Kenya Red Cross Society some years later.


The following year Mrs. E. Clark became DVP her main project being "water for wild animals " as 1961 was a year of severe drought.


The next few years were relatively quiet ones as people grew accustomed to the many changes taking place in Kenya, but as always money was raised and donations made.


In 1965 Mrs. Fentum was again DVP and immediately tackled the unsightly market opposite the shopping centre. Karen now has a well-built market near the site.


This was a very sad year for the branch as two members died suddenly. Lady Pelling and Mrs. Gay Hartford Jones. One of the local charities the Branch has always supported is St. Francis Church which began in Mrs. E. H. Low's garden as a small thatched building, inhabited often by squirrels, and which developed into the stone-built church we know today.


By 1968 the scrapbooks were being compiled as this year was the Golden Jubilee, a Jubilee Ball was organised and held at the Karen Country club for all League members and was a great success. The years went by, Karen as always supporting the National Chairman's projects: The I.C.U. of the Nairobi Hospital, and the special equipment for the treatment of Cancer at the Kenyatta National Hospital.


By 1977 branch subscriptions were raised to 30/- a year and some members attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the Maendeleo Ya Wanawake building. During the year the A.C.W.W. International Conference was held in Nairobi. The branch helped in many ways, holding a tea party in the garden of the late Mr. and Mrs. Shaw to give delegates a taste of Kenya hospitality, and a lovely view of the Ngong Hills.


The following year the branch was delighted when Ann Palmer became National Chairman, and our interests were turned towards Water Projects and the Green Belt Movement.

Headquarters was very short of funds in 1979 and proposed raising the Annual Subscriptions again. Karen and Langata opposed this, who suggested that WEAL house could be put to more use instead, why not hire the place for public functions or serve coffee to members?


A resolution was drawn up and presented by our Chairman. Out of this suggestion arose the Friday Coffee Mornings and Produce Sales and the happy noisy club atmosphere that we know today.


Some branch meetings are held there, and the place seems to be a bustle of activity on most days of the week, sufficient funds are raised to keep Headquarters running. 


Some of our favourite charities have seemed to follow a familiar pattern, Karen Red Cross Supplementary feeding scheme, the K.S.P.C.A., Deaf Children, Blind Society, Talking Books for the blind, Langata Women’s Prison, (clothes for babies) all need regular donations.

Until more recently we helped support the Family Health Scheme with money, personnel and a vast number of calico bags, which were used for making water storage jars. Since 1982 we have taken part in the Christmas Fair at Headquarters, rather than hold one by ourselves at Karen Shopping Centre. Other money raising events have been continuous, some larger and more memorable than others. Looking back there is a long vista of events, Garden Parties, Film Shows, Progressive and Recipe Lunches, Bridge drives, and a Scottish-Japanese evening, where Japanese food was served and Scottish country dancing took place, plus the Karen Cocktail Revue in 1981, all great fun and big money raisers.


Each year Karen/Langata have entered the Home Industries (now Home craft Exhibition) with varying success, but always much enjoyment. Since the Exhibition has been held in the Anderson Hall our members have appreciated the social occasion it has become, and the easy access to the Hall, where as the A.S.K. grounds were becoming difficult to negotiate. In 1980 Joan Wolseley Lewis became National Chairman after serving her apprenticeship as Chairman of the Branch for several years.


Many of our stalwart members have left the country, sadly some of them have died - but the branch continues bravely - welcoming newcomers and old friends alike, keeping the spirit of the League alive and thriving.

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