An interview with Chancellor Dr Gillian Willmore on her recent visit to St John Kenya

Dr Willmore, what was the purpose of your recent visit to Kenya?

I went to Kenya to invest the President of the Republic, who is also the Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces and Chief Patron of St John Kenya, His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta C.G.H., as a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John. I also made former Prior of St John, Hon Major (Rtd) Marsden Madoka EGH, a Bailiff Grand Cross of our Order.

Why was the President made a Knight of St John?

The President was nominated to become a Knight by the Priory of St John Kenya for his service to St John.

He was present when the Priory was established in 2013, and he has been their patron ever since. He also instructed two government ministries, for transport and health, to engage with St John as a priority. He donated personally to St John Kenya in the past, so that the organisation was able to purchase two ambulances from those funds which made a significant difference to their ability to meet their charitable objectives. He is clearly committed to assisting us in the future too.

Why was Mr Madoka invested as a Bailiff Grand Cross of St John?

Marsden Madoka was instrumental in moving St John from an Association to a Priory. His experience as a government minister and his understanding of process enabled St John Kenya to build up the momentum and skills to make this leap. His guidance as Prior contributed to the stability and growth of St John Kenya which now numbers over 26,000 volunteers.

You did not just go to Africa for the honours, but also to see some of the work St John Kenya is doing?

Absolutely. The investitures were the reason for a Great Officer to go out to Kenya, but since I went so far, I thought it would be good to explore St John’s reach in the country more widely.

I attended the 92nd National St John ambulance parade of 3,500 St John members in the grounds of the State House on 29 May, inspected by the President himself. I also visited two schools in Nairobi, which have a St John’s Club: State House Girls’ School and Stahere Boys’ School. There is tremendous competition to enter these clubs. The children are trained in first aid, and they also do the Grand Prior Award for cadets. The plan is that every school in Kenya will have a St John’s Club.

What other projects did you visit?

I requested a visit with the St John Kenya team to a joint project supported by the German Johanniter, and another project run by Malteser International, to promote and to highlight the links between our organisations.

The Johanniter are collaborating with St John Kenya in a first responder project in Kenya with the support of the German Government. Volunteers run several first aid units along the main highway from Nairobi to Mombasa to offer lifesaving first response to the many roadside accidents. But it isn’t just for that: These small units serve the local community in other ways, sometimes offering food. Recently, they found a baby close to the hub I visited, and they took him in, named him John, and he is now flourishing in an orphanage. The project is generally helping the communities in the villages where the hubs are located. There are 18 of these units operating in the country.

Maltese international and St John are currently working on a memorandum to further collaboration in Kenya. I visited one of their projects in a prison, where Maltese International is running a tuberculosis and HIV centre. We met the vaccinator, who is supported by St John volunteers to administer the vaccinations. Separately, I visited the emergency operations dispatch centre, operated by the Maltese. It turned out that St John had trained the Manager of the centre and several nurses in first aid.

Overall, I found more synergy between our organisations than I had expected.

What was the highlight of your trip?

Probably investing the President, but visiting the roadside centre of the Johanniter was a very high point, as also was the visit to the schools and attending a meeting of the newly established St John Women’s Network, a branch of the global St John Women’s Leadership Group.

A fun memory: After the Grand Parade, some girls came up to me. Because I was wearing a hat, and I had been sitting next to the President on the stage, they asked me: “Are you Queen Elizabeth, Mam”?

Now you have seen St John Kenya and their work on the ground, what do you think is the role they can play as a Priory for our global strategy?

I think St John in Kenya could be well positioned to be a kind of hub for the EMEA region, and this is something I think the Order could consider. The morale in the office is robust, and each and every department is showing great potential for focused activity. They have the skills, the pan-African experience, and the knowledge to carry the strategy forward with real strength. For example, they could be highly significant in building up St John in Africa and training the neighbouring organisations in professional first aid.

Read more about or work in Kenya here.

June 2022