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EAST AFRICA WOMEN'S LEAGUE
Naivasha can best be described by borrowing a word from the multi-nationals. It is a conglomerate – a being gathered together into a round body or cluster from many parts.
Over the years, since the beginning of the branch in 1925 the pieces have broken apart, formed separate entities for a time and finally welded together again.
The first branch under the leadership of The Lady Eleanor Cole comprised Gilgil/Naivahsa; this huge area proved unwieldy and around 1927 it was cloven into two but Naivasha still retained the great farming plateau of North Kinangop together with the lake area and it was not until 1941 that this also was divided and became North Kinangop and Longonot branches. However, Longonot was short-lived and closed down on the retirement of Mrs. Rawson, its DVP – as Branch Chairmen were then called a couple of years later.
By 1950, Lakeside Branch was born, and North Kinangop had combined with Naivasha, but a year later North Kinangop again seceded, stating that as they now had their own post office and direct road to Nairobi, they would prefer to go it alone under the leadership of Mrs. Mervyn Ray. The branch had a short run of three years and closed down in 1954.
Meanwhile Lady Hewett had been persuaded to start up Naivasha branch again and with fifteen members and the support of Gilgil and Lakeside in the organized activities managed to carry on. Later, in 1966, owing to very reduced membership and a lack of enthusiasm for the job of DVP both Lakeside and Gilgilclosed their branches and Naivasha welcomed their remaining members.
Mrs. Mairo Hopcraft one of the first settlers to setup house in the Naivasha area. A one time Branch Chairman and always a staunch and active member, Mairo said, 'Naivasha is a vast ranch-type farming area and in the early days there were sisal plantations along the south of the lake.
'At first there were not many members as most were farmers' wives who were extremely busy and quite unable to attend even monthly meetings. However, they were always very willing to work hard towards any EAWL project without sparing the time to be purely social.’
'During the war years an important part of our work was organizing comforts for the troops, packing parcels of books and helping in any way we could. About this time we persuaded the Government to build a cottage hospital and we stressed the necessity for a resident doctor and a nursery school for Naivasha.’
‘Under the leadership of Lady Hewett who was made DVP in July 1952, activities were stepped up. We entertained the Lancashire Fusiliers and ran canteens where home cooked food, much appreciated by the troops, was provided. Profits from this went to the Troops fund. We had street sales, film shows, prize stalls and raffles, barbeques and a garden meeting at Lady Hewett's house. The proceeds from these affairs went to Weal House Nairobi.’
'In 1957 Mrs. Inglis Moore inspired all branches to create embroidered panels to represent their districts. Mrs. Aspinall painted a charming design; the lake backed by Mt. Longonot and in the foreground a BOAC Solent flying boat reaching the landing stage on the south side of Crescent Island. These crafts called three times a week from May 1949 to September 1950 and their arrival was attended by the Game Warden whose job it was to scare off any hippo who might be in the path of a landing plane.’
'Following Mrs. Aspinall's design many happy months followed with Mrs. Hewson and Mrs. Polhill working the body of the tapestry and me doing the border of wild flowers and birds.’
'I remember, too, a children's gymkhana organized by the branch in 1958 at the Kenyatta Polo ground owned by Mr. and Mrs. Begg; also a committee being formed to press the Education Department to build a school, now the Naivasha Secondary School.’
'Naivasha Sports Club was the venue for much fundraising activity over the ensuing years. We had film shows, raffles, supper meetings and in particular the year 1967 the League's Golden jubilee year when, in spite of the European exodus, the film show, raffle and supper made Shs.1,629/-, a very good sum for those days.
In recent years Naivasha has shown itself an enduring body averaging some seventy members at any one time. Among its many activities there were two major projects of special interest to the branch. First, the Mobile Unit immunization campaign in which Jill Simpson played such a big part and which earned her the M.B.E. Together with her nurse associates Jill D'Olier and Veronica Malakooti, Maendeleo ya Wanawake, the Family Planning Association, the Naivasha District Hospital Team and always other visiting League members, Jill visited schools, forayed out into the countryside and immunized many thousands of children the accent being on TB, measles and oral polio vaccines. Eyes were treated and vitamin A distributed.
But that was not all. The team tried to teach people to better standards by giving talks on nutrition, what to eat and how not to waste. They dished out worm medicines, treated scabies and ringworm and cleaned up sores. They taught how to make water jars from cement and sacking in order to conserve rainwater and how to plant trees.
Asked to comment on her impressions, Jill once said, "Much has been written about the serious side but not about the laughs. Whoopee! Who forgot to bring the picnic? That fabulous time when a hot, worried headmaster came into the classroom followed by his pupils with an offering of stew, a loaf of bread each and jam washed down with Pepsi”
'And the tears when confronted with a staring scrap of humanity, too late for us to help; or the frustration when faced with an appalling hare lip and cleft palate and a staunch mother saying "God gave me the child like this and like this it will stay." Not even Mrs. Jane Kiano of Maendeleoya Wanawake could help.’
'Leah Munyu's face when handed a jembi to dig a hole to plant a tree, to find almost solid rock underneath! We all worked hard, laughed, and cried and made great strides to understanding each other and came to realize much needs to be done.'
Another enduring project is the Deaf School at Nyandarua. This is the special 'baby' of Anne Vaughan and Jean Knight who report to the rest of us and make known the special requirements of the school. Funds were allocated to help with the purchase of a generator; for deaf aids, a sewing machine, speech trainers, books and so on. A ceiling and note board was provided for one of the rooms and Naivasha children carol singers donated a typewriter.
A far from single-handed effort was the knitting of blankets for the school. The colorful blankets are made from squares of knitting – six squares across and eleven down make one blanket. Gilgil area has made this their special "bee" but surely the record for squares must be that of the two hundred knitted by Mrs. Bill Dew!
Wool was also purchased for distribution to the school itself so that pupils could knit squares thus helping those who helped them. In the end sixty-nine beds were covered with lovely and enduring blankets and the knitting still goes on. The Lady Ann Marsham, who later moved to England, continued to knit for the school and contributions were received from the pupils of Kate Dunne's School and the well-known Bedales, both in the UK. The beginning of the decade had Naivasha sponsoring one deaf child and the end saw five children.
Carol’s singing continued to give fun, raise money and sometimes comforts lonely people. Jill Simpson remembered back “… mothers, children, pick-ups, torches, hymn sheets, scampering children darting around in the dark from house to house; giving the Christmas spirit to possibly lonely folk; older children carefully lifting younger ones into the transport; someone to count heads and on to the last stop where supper was waiting.”
Inspired by Mrs. Mary Johnson and Mrs. Rita Goldhill Naivasha entertained lonely British sailors over the Christmas periods. Again it was Jill who provided the memories “the panic while waiting for four to six men to arrive in a taxi. What have I done! What if they are mad keen to party all night? Will they want to see birds, feathered ones? What do we do with them?”
'Then they came, bags sorted, driver promising to pick them up in four days time. For years it was a great success; they hung Christmas decorations (never there to take them down of course and where a strapping young sailor can climb there are those of us who can't). Finally back to the taxi and to Mary in Nairobi for sending back to Mombasa. Wonderful letters from them, their wives and mothers.'
And finally the biggest laugh of the eighties – IN RETROSPECT. As everyone knows a Council meeting is held once a year out of Nairobi. I quote from Jill Hirst's report on one of the years Naivasha had the honor. “I still have to chuckle over that ghastly Up-country Meeting when the D.O. wanted to arrest all 150 members present, including our National Chairman and her committee. Billy (Nightingale) smoothed them over, but I don't think she could have been quite so charming had she known the horrors that were going on in the kitchen. The hotel management had decided at the last moment that they were not going to feed us after all and we had to start to do it ourselves. First the Kenwood Mixing Bowl blew up and about ten pints of cream swooshed across the kitchen at high speed covering us all – then the sink fell off the wall! There was no cutlery, china or glassware and we had people shooting off to all comers of Naivasha collecting these things and food for the cold buffet. The final straw was when it started to rain and the roof leaked like a sieve… muddy water pouring steadily into your plastic beaker full of warm gin and tonic. It says much for the EAWL as a whole that our guests drove off saying what a lovely time they had had and stoutly denying any knowledge of panic or confusion.'