A look back: The life of Nancy Crooks and the founding of NECF
Since her arrival in Kenya in 1959 alongside her husband Howard, Nancy Crooks committed herself to take on project after project to better the lives of women and children. Her work and life left a profound impact on the community around her, with her undertakings ranging widely from establishing several different schools, to teaching women how to use solar-powered cookers, to engaging students and staff in swimming lessons at her home.
Nancy’s Unrelenting Drive:
Nancy was known for being passionate and persistent in the pursuit of what she believed to be right. Upon starting a children’s school in Kenya, Nancy was concerned and wanted to ensure that her students would be able to receive recognition abroad for their studies. She pursued the US Embassy relentlessly to buy out an existing property and start a recognized international school.
After pursuing them for some time, Howard recalls overhearing a conversation at a cocktail party addressing some talk that the embassy was indeed going to start a school.
A man was overheard saying, ‘’there’s a gal there that has a little school and she’s bugging the hell out of us to take over, and the only way we’re going to shut her up is to take over the school!” And eventually, that is what the US embassy did, with Nancy on as the first principle of the International School of Kenya!
Nancy’s Passion for Education:
Nancy’s role as an educator was not surprising given her love for children and education. Nancy was able to take even the most mundane texts like that of an encyclopedia and make it fun and engaging by exploring the words; long, short, difficult, and funny and create moments of laughter and bonding as she did with her granddaughter.
Nancy’s genuine nature and connection to her students was well evidenced by how much she enjoyed their company and they enjoyed hers.
“There would always be teenagers coming around and chatting with her for hours. She got invited to go on camping trips …from the teenagers. Teenagers wouldn’t do that if they didn’t have such strong feelings.” – Tina Vincent, Howard and Nancy’s daughter
Nancy’s life is filled with stories of projects big and small that were always in service of others.
- Nancy co-founded the International School of Kenya (ISK), which is now known as one of the most prestigious and successful learning institutions in Kenya.
- Founded a school teaching English as a second language
- Founded a nanny training school
- Founded a speed-reading school
- Nancy helped in starting the Culinary Institute of Africa where students learned safari camp-related skills.
- Created a board game, a safari-themed snakes and ladders style game
- Published a book of nannying which ranged in topics from first aid to cooking to hygiene.
- Co-wrote and published the “Kenya Trivia” book which sold 40-50 thousand copies which were included in ‘’welcome to Kenya’’ packets to teach tourists visiting Kenya.
- Successfully campaigned to restore a grove of trees in Kenya’s Rift Valley
- Worked alongside friends to help women in prisons with food donations and teaching them how to plant food. They also set up books and board games and arranged for law students to meet with them to discuss their cases.
- and so much more …
The beginning of NECF
After Nancy’s passing in 2009, Howard with the help of family and friends started the NECF to honor Nancy’s lifelong work. In the 10 years since its inception, the NECF has launched several initiatives that have impacted the lives of thousands of children and their families.
The first project that NECF undertook was continuing Nancy’s project of distributing solar cookers which were then replaced by solar lights. When visiting areas to distribute cookers, it became very evident the challenges that faced children in non-electrified rural regions. The children would walk long distances to and from school with very little time to do homework during daylight hours. Solar lights were (and still are) a cost-effective and sustainable option to help these students.
Nancy always said; ’’children must play!’’ In the last few years, the NECF has furthered Nancy’s vision and passion for play-based education with Nancy’s Playgrounds, a project which provides access to safe play areas for children, regardless of their circumstances. During Nancy’s visits to schools, she witnessed (and was told through teacher accounts), students passed out due to hunger. NECF’s third program, Nancy’s Garden was therefore developed to establish kitchen gardens in schools and children's homes to supplement school feeding programs and to educate children on how to grow their own food.
Since NECF’s inception 10 years ago, more than 400 cooking kits were distributed to women in arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya. 7500 lights have been distributed in rural Kenya and South Sudan. Seven playgrounds, including in Kenya’s women’s prisons were installed. A community garden was installed and NECF sponsored two other gardens in children’s homes with seeds and seedlings.
Nancy devoted her life and passion projects to educating children, always in the pursuit to increase their well-being and curiosity, wanting to open their eyes to new and different things. The NECF embodies and strives to uphold the same values.
When asked what he is most proud of for the NECF Howard said that the fact that it never lost track of what Nancy’s aspirations were. And the fact that the NECF has made a dent in the needs of women and children in Kenya. With this background, NECF attracts good people who work very hard in making it a continued success.
The future of NECF
The NECF team believes this is just the beginning of their work. They are committed to expanding their reach with enthusiastic supporters and volunteers that want to make a difference and bring happiness to children and their families, in the same inspiring and unrelenting way that Nancy did.
Some heartwarming stories and thoughts from Nancy’s friends:
“The memory of Nancy Crooks’ intellect and keen sense of humor is as fresh as if I spoke with her yesterday. Nancy was genuinely interested in the well-being and development of others. In her presence, you felt interested in, and cared about -- a gift for each of us who knew her. Nancy scaled that interest and care, impacting countless lives in her lifetime as an educator and activist. Nancy Crooks was a formidable force of positivity. That positivity continues, undimmed by her passing, in the work of the Foundation created in her memory.” Terry Light friend to Nancy and Howard
“It’s very hard to believe that we are at the 10th anniversary of Nancy’s passing. Her spirit and legacy are still so strong within the Nancy Ellen Crooks Foundation, that it seems she is overseeing all the projects herself!
Saying that the world is a lesser place without Nance seems very cliche, but so true. Every time I think of her, I think of that million-dollar smile of hers. She could light up an entire room when she walked in. Always thinking of others and trying to make Kenya a better place for her friends, family and those less fortunate. So wonderful that Howard and the NECF team continue what she began so long ago.” - Kim and Glen Edmunds, friends to Nancy and Howard
“…Nancy's experiences were so profound to her, spending the night speaking with all the women who were being held in remand, that she promised to do something about their situations. So she asked me to help. We got donations from Zucchini vegetables and filled my pickup several times with fresh fruits and vegs; managed donations from many different store owners for start-up kits for mothers who had tiny babies with them in Remand; persuaded the Organic Farmers Association to donate seeds and spend several afternoons at Remand working with the ladies to plant food instead of flowers; we set up a library of books (mostly in Kiswahili) and board games in a kiosk inside Remand that was donated to us by Coca Cola; and we paid transport for students from the UON Law School to meet with the women and discuss their cases”
– Rosemary Kinyanjui, Nancy’s friend and NECF Board Member
"It’s impossible to remember Nancy without smiling and breathing in her energy... Every time I was in her presence, I learned a hundred new life lessons – she was a born teacher who was always generous and delighted to share her knowledge. Nancy was like a favourite aunt; we could talk about anything or nothing for hours. AND she wore her sheepskin slippers the whole day! I sure do miss this shining lady who inspired thousands with her ingenuity, intelligence, creativity and wicked sense of humour."
– Jolene Wood, Nancy and Howard’s friend and one of NECF’s founders
"My fond memories of Nancy are of her when I first came to Kenya in 2007 and having the pleasure of her wonderful welcome coming during first lunch at her house. She immediately made me so welcome to Kenya and her enthusiasm and interest to what I was doing here and where we might work together with her projects on helping women and children in Kenya and the Green Belt movement was truly inspiring. Her warmth and humour was truly infectious and I therefore was very happy to have the luncheon invites on the patio on Nancy and Howard's house to meet new people on many interesting and happy occasions. She introduced me to all that is good about life in Kenya and allowed me to truly appreciate this fully as I settled into my time here with ease.
I will never forget this and will always remember her with great fondness."
- Neil Taylor, Howard’s friend and NECF Board member
"During each Christmas season, Nancy, like many women, had a delectable recipe for Liver Paté. There is liver pate and then there was Nancy’s liver paté. I first discovered it while at their house one year around Christmas time. The paté, amongst other Christmas delights, was served during a pre Christmas party at their home along Ngetcha road. I had been in Kenya about five years at that point and liver paté sadly was not on the menu in most restaurants perhaps with the exception of the Muthaiga Club. With Canada being so far away, I missed some of the traditions I grew up with around Christmas time and paté had certainly been one of them. After complimenting Nancy on how outstanding her paté was, and I say was as I’m pretty sure I gobbled up as much of it as I could during that party, she offered to make me some. It was an offer that extended to every Christmas season afterwards. I would receive a pot of Nancy’s paté, wrapped up with a red bow and accompanied with a handwritten note wishing me the best over the Christmas season. It’s strange how some of the kindest gestures made by people are often the most memorable. I thank you Nancy for making my Christmases here in Kenya a little more traditional and warmer."
- Guy Richards, Nancy and Howard’s friend