Carol Phelps of Delta flew to Nairobi, Kenya, last December to visit Fairmile School and its director, Fern Eshuchi, a family friend for many years.
When Carol told her son, Allen Lindblad, she was going, Allen said, "We'll go too." Allen, his wife Beth and their son Jonathan joined Carol for part of her time in Kenya. Allen has known Fern since he was 4 years old.
Allen, Beth and Jonathan live in Germany, where both Allen and Beth are educators. Carol spent a week with them in Germany before they all left for Kenya and a week after her stay in Kenya.
Carol's late mother, Verna Phelps, met Fern Eshuchi in 1985 when Fern came from Kenya to pursue training in providing services to children with developmental disabilities. Fern trained first at University of Denver, came to Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) for one class, and trained later at a university in Pennsylvania.
Verna Phelps, part of the first graduating class at Mesa State College, majored in Human Services with a specialty in developmental disabilities. Verna pioneered work with children born at risk because of developmental disabilities and was recognized in the 1970s as an early childhood specialist.
Verna invited Fern to live with her while Fern completed her course at Mesa State. Carol remembers Fern took one look at all the books Verna had relating to early childhood development disabilities and said, "This is all I need. You have everything I need to do my work."
Carol said the two immediately became soulmates. They worked together to plan a school for children with disabilities in Nairobi, with Verna being the encourager emotionally and financially. After Fern returned to Kenya, the two continued their work together through long distance telephone calls and correspondence.
In 1986 Verna traveled to Nairobi with a United Methodist tour and stayed with Fern. During that time, Fairmile School opened Jan. 16, 1987, for its first students. Fairmile School's official history credits Fern Eshuchi, Verna D. Phelps from Colorado, U.S.A., and J. M. Maliti, a Kenyan parent, for its establishment.
Carol Phelps has kept in touch with Fern through the years, keeping informed about the activities and progress of Fairmile School. Carol supports Fairmile School financially and encourages support from organizations and individuals.
Fern and her staff work with students with autism, Down Syndrome, Fragile X, Williams Syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Other students have non-specific learning disabilities, coupled with behavior difficulties, hyperactivity, or dyslexia. Some students have speech difficulties, others are basic slow learners.
Fern travels to train other teachers to work with children with developmental disabilities. She works with parents, teaching them how to interact more effectively with their children.
Nairobi has a population of 3.5 million people.
Fern's compound in Nairobi exists itself because of heroic effort on the part of Fern and all her family. Periodically, she still must go through Kenyan bureaucratic hoops to prove the land is hers.
The compound consists of one acre, bordered on one side by a very busy highway, one side by high rise apartments and on two sides by slums.
To enter the compound, one exits the highway down an incline, through a big gate. The compound is surrounded by a security wall, an electric fence and razor wire. In 2007 there were riots after the election and 500 people found shelter in Fern's compound.
Carol describes it as a "little oasis" today.
The original building is Fern's home. She added a separate building for classrooms.
She added three guest rooms. While Carol was there, she and her family stayed in the guest rooms. In July three occupational therapists from North Carolina will stay there while they do their three-month internships at Fairmile School.
Fern added an apartment for her sister and her family and additional rooms to provide for the bus driver and/or the cook if either has to stay overnight.
The students are day students, but occasionally, when a family brings a child for observation, the family may need to stay overnight in a guest room.
There is running water on the compound but it is not drinkable. Water has to be boiled.
Electricity is not dependable. During Carol's stay, there was a huge flash of light. A transformer by the highway blew out. The compound lost power from 2 a.m. to 11 p.m.
FOX television and other channels are available, and dialogue is sometimes dubbed in.
There is a playground in the compound, as well as a banana grove, avocado tree, and garden with many beautiful flowers. A gardener cares for the flowers and the children help the gardener and help with care of the banana grove and avocado tree.
A carpenter comes in for repairs or maintenance and he makes new furniture from old wood on the compound.
Fern invited Carol, Allen, Beth and Jonathan to let her "show them Kenya."
They traveled five miles to downtown Nairobi, with outdoor stalls displaying handicrafts of all kinds. They met the children of many of the teachers at Fairmile School.
They visited an elephant orphanage, went on an animal safari in the Kenya National Park, which is five miles from downtown. Nairobi is one of a few cities to encompass a national park. They visited the Kenya National Museum, the Rift Valley and Lake Nakura. They visited a research center and spent good time on the beach. Allen, an accomplished photographer, recorded their good times.
Everywhere they went 3-year-old Jonathan made friends. He was never without some friend with whom he could enjoy the adventure. Although he is a well-traveled child, he was very excited about all he saw.
He would often exclaim to Carol, "Goodness gracious, Grandma," as he pointed out something he found special.
Carol stayed in Kenya for two weeks after Allen, Beth and Jonathan left. She and Fern worked together at the school. Carol had shipped 30 professional books and 30 children's books, carefully selected, to Fern before beginning her trip. She helped set up a library with these books and others and did training with the teachers.
On occasions when Carol was the lone white person among many Kenyan people, she became aware of the privilege that being born white provides. While at Fairmile School, if someone came in seeking information, they automatically went to Carol, who had to direct them to the Kenyan who could advise the visitor. When she was seeking admittance to the Kenya National Museum and the Safari Walk, she was granted immediate admission, while native Kenyans were being questioned by the authorities who demanded ID papers from the residents.
Fern's niece gave birth to a baby while Carol was there, and Fern and Carol drove to the hospital to see the niece and baby.When the parking attendant saw Carol, he immediately directed them to a doctor parking space. Fern had never experienced that sort of courtesy when alone.
Carol said, "Being seen as a person of authority or given special privileges simply because I am white weighs very heavily on me for receiving a privilege I had not earned."