First meetingBy Joe Otin: An Australian and a Kenyan met in a bar, one had a pen and the other had a napkin. At the end of the evening a list of potential members of the Rotary Club of Lavington filled the napkin in blotted blue ink. I have tried to make this into a joke with a nice punchline many times without success.
The truth is that this is how the idea of the Rotary Club of Lavington began, and that particular meeting was held between Jim Wilson and I over a couple of drinks on the 23rd of December 2013.
There are approximately 16 clubs in Nairobi each with a distinctive character and set of community service projects dotted around the city and other parts of the country. The meetings venues of these clubs are however concentrated around the Westlands and Upper Hill areas of Nairobi. The Rotary clubs closest to Lavington are in Nairobi Club, Karen Country Club or Parklands Sports Club, and the distance is magnified by the increasing levels of traffic in the city. We thought that Lavington, being a neighborhood populated by high income earners, was a perfect catchment area for potential Rotarians. Many businesses have also found premises in the area and so there is a growing number of professionals and business executives who work there.
Around Lavington there are a number disadvantaged communities in Kawangware and Riruta Satellite which need increased access to health care, improved education, provision of water and sanitation facilities and other basic services. As Rotary clubs in Africa aim to serve needy communities and jump in to fill the gaps that our national administrations are unable address, we thought that a club in Lavington would bring together the business and community leaders to form a strong network of people who could work on some of the glaring needs and help to create a safe environment.
So, on the 16th of January we invited guests and Rotarians to a cocktail where we introduced the idea of forming a club in Lavington. To make it enticing, Jim and I sponsored the cocktail drinks and finger food at the La Palanka Restaurant on James Gichuru Road. We were pleased that 12 people attended that first cocktail but we were dismayed by the fact that there was only one guest and non-Rotarian, and it became clear to us that this would take more effort than we had previously imagined.
Two weeks later we had a lunch meeting and attendance was more encouraging, and thereafter we had weekly meetings every Thursday lunchtime.
At first, we thought that La Palanka would be a suitable venue mainly because of its location right off James Gichuru Road, the main road of the area, and it had private dinning rooms suitable for Rotary club meetings. We negotiated a meal price and indicated the number of guests expected weekly. As it happens, in one week we would have a great turnout, and in the next attendance would be dismal, and the varying attendance levels made the restaurant manager queazy. He preferred to prepare the meals for a set number of people, and food did go to waste on occasion. Inevitably we were off looking for a new venue after a couple of months.
We eventually found Fang Fang Chinese Restaurant just opposite Strathmore School on James Gichuru Road. The location was once again suitable, and once we got over the language barrier, we were able to negotiate a reasonable meal price. The club in formation had a very pleasant time during our 3 month stay at the Chinese restaurant. Incidentally, there was only one challenge which we tried very hard to ignore; we did not have a private dinning room allocated for our meetings.
On many Thursdays there were other diners at tables near us, who had nothing to do with the Rotary meeting. Sometimes the other diners would get irritated by our Rotary procedures and start speaking so loudly that we could not hear our invited guest speaker. At the end of such a meeting an apology to the speaker, rather than a vote of thanks, was more appropriate.
One day, out of the blue, John Fox proposed that we should visit the Lavington Hill House to explore whether it would be suitable as a venue for our meetings. We did, and we chose it for its privacy, history and charm. The owner, Mr. Mogere was very warm and amiable and after we negotiated a meal price, we were good to go.
We then began to review options to increase and stabilize the numbers at meetings. It became apparent to us that when people do some work for the needy and get the inner satisfaction for doing so, then they would be invested in the idea of the Rotary club. We identified Mary Faith’s Centre for Abandoned and Abused Children and began to visit them with donations and spent time understanding their needs. At every visit we gave more, and the care-givers and children were overjoyed that we were responding to their needs and over time the club grew to have a special bond with the home and it’s inhabitants as we wanted to see them grow up as normal children and to be useful members of society and future leaders.
Needless to say, the more we did for the society, the more our attendance increased as it became clear to those of us who were new to Rotary’s essence, that this was not just a lunch club, but rather, a service club!
We held our first social at Kengele’s Restaurant in Lavington Green on the 2nd of May 2014, and we invited members of our mother club, Rotary Club of Nairobi-East, and friends. The turnout was good and we had a great time. Over drinks we started to discuss club leadership with a number of the potential Rotarians who showed promise. Soon after, John Fox emerged as a natural leader and a team began to form around him. Over the next month and following several consultations with members, the clubs board was formed and their first task was to get the club chartered.
It took one month to get 27 application forms submitted, and another 2 weeks to get the numbers up to 35. Once this was done John sent the documents to District Governor Bimal Kantaria who forwarded them to Rotary International offices in Zurich for the processing of the charter, and on the 25th of August 2014, the Rotary Club of Nairobi-Lavington was granted its charter by the Rotary International President.