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EAST AFRICA WOMEN'S LEAGUE
“The Branch at Nakuru was celebrating its first birthday” So commences an intensely interesting article on the work of the EAWL taken from a yellow, faded newspaper-cutting from the “East African Standard” of 2/3/26, much pencilled and heavily underlined and frayed with age.
“EAWL work, and particularly the development of the movement in the Nakuru District, formed the subject of the speeches delivered at a recent general meeting of the Nakuru Branch of the EAWL, by Mrs Ralph Turner, President of the League, and Mrs Ballenden, Nakuru Vice President. “Our organisation,” Mrs Turner said, “is a league of women, in which each member is equally pledged to render service to each other, and to all women and children, in fact, to be good citizens”. This was the spirit which animated the one-year-old Nakuru Branch which had been brought into existence in 1925.
Mrs Eleanor Sinclair (subsequently DVP for many years), Mrs Mary Selfe and Mrs Naomi McClelland started the Nakuru Library. They used to meet once a week, wearing red flannel “puggarees” dangling from their sun helmets, to protect their spines from the equatorial sun, and exchange books for the farmer’s wives in a building near the Midland Hotel. Later the Library moved to the old Post Office building, by the former Railway Station. Bats flew in and through the broken floor-boards and gnawed the books, but the good ladies of the EAWL toiled on regardless.
1927 saw seventy members in the Nakuru Branch, and Ravine Branch led by “Old Aunti Sisi” (Mrs Hopkins) joined in to help with their projects. They were working to get a Nursing Sister installed at Nakuru, to visit surrounding districts as well.
Mrs Cath Griffiths, wife of Lt. Col. Griffiths, of the KFA, became DVP in 1930 and worked for years for such enterprises as First Aid classes, the Nakuru Employment Bureau for Domestic Servants and a Baby Welfare Clinic which much improved the health of the children attending it. The Branch started both. Hospital and prison visiting was carried out, and the Branch organised the Home Industries and Juvenile Sections at the Royal Agricultural Show in 1936.
During the War Lady Baden-Powell visited Nakuru and saw the Sewing Class for African women in action; ladies on their knees cutting out navy blue bloomers from yards and yards of cotton cloth laid across the floor of the Dance Hall! The Branch carried on their Library tradition by organising a Military Library and sending books to the troops. Funds were raised for the Red Cross among other War work.
The history of the Nakuru Branch after VE day was one of constructive progress. After the hectic war activities, there was no lull when peace came. The aftermath of war brought in its wake aid for disabled ex-service men, and many EAWL charities had to be assisted, especially the mission to Seamen. Many new Nakuru residents were welcomed to the League and dances and entertainments, to swell funds, were organised in the Nakuru Athletic Club. Mrs Madge Jenner, of Nakuru School, became DVP in 1948, and as a leading actress in pantomime, brought glamour and sparkle to our monthly meetings. She was succeeded by Mrs Vera Walford who in 1949 gave much valuable publicity to the League’s activities through her weekly column in the Sunday Post, to which she contributed “This Week in Nakuru”.
1950 afforded an opportunity for yet another meeting with Lady Baden Powell. Great interest was being evinced in the education of African women, and the election of women to the Municipal councils. Mrs Tony Salter was one of the first women to serve on the Municipal council, and was DVP in 1951. The Branch was visited by representatives of ACWW after the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.
Mrs “Ginger” Narraway and Mrs Winston Smith served as DVP’s later in the ‘50’s, and through their stalwart efforts and those of Mrs Else Bernhardie, the EAWL nursery School and crèche was actually established, with Masonic Lodge help. By 1960 it was in full swing, providing useful help to parents in Nakuru township.
From 1960 until 1969, groups of ardent workers all with one aim in view, to further the progress of women and children of all races in Kenya, pressed on with work for social welfare. Mrs Leila Brierley, donor of the Brierley Bowl for Homecrafts, was a hard-working, efficient DVP; her mother Fanny Sheppard of the Town Clerk’s office being a gifted fortuneteller at Hospital fetes, and her daughter Cynthia typed the Nakuru Branch Scrapbook.
Other projects over the years have been; a chain link fence around the Catholic Nursery School, Bondeni, where we also planted trees in the compund: a gift of two sewing machines and two knitting machines to the Ngala School for the Deaf; Again we planted trees in the school compound; help to the Arap Moi Children’s Home, and building a Library at the St Nicholas Centre. This is a home for destitute boys and girls. The Branch put up a large building with shelving, tables and chairs, and provided books.
Teas at the Annual Hospital Fete had always been provided and served by the EAWL, and at one time the Branch catered at the Nakuru Agricultural Show, which was a great fund-raiser.
Regular monthly meetings have been held with the usual Bring & Buy sales; plus the continued stimulation of members by talks and demonstrations on a vast variety of subjects.
Nakuru Branch joined with Jill Simpson and the Naivasha Branch in the Immunisation Scheme, participating regularly while the scheme was active in the Rift Valley, often supplying the full complement of workers.