Events come and go in history, but among them a few leave indelible marks and make a real difference.
“The inauguration of the American College for Girls in Cairo (ACG) in 1910—today the Ramses College for Girls (RCG)—in a ceremony graced by the former US President Theodore Roosevelt (president from 1901 – 1909) as guest speaker, was undoubtedly one that made a huge difference. It marked a pioneering, visionary step in the education of girls in Egypt, without any discrimination based on culture, social standard or religion.
“This year the College celebrates the graduation of its 100th class.”
This was the wording of the invitation sent out by the RCG for participation in the graduation ceremony held on Saturday 2 November 2013 at the Cairo International Conference in Nasr City.
Speeches and honours
On hand to celebrate the 100th class were the principal Fadia Makram Ebeid and the Reverend Gohar Azmy of the Evangelical Church’s Synod of the Nile. The guests included the minister of the manpower Kamal Abu-Eita; minister of environment Laila Iskandar; and General Ahmed Taymour, deputy to Cairo Governor. Another star guest was Dr Shaza Shakhashiri, the first Egyptian principal of the college, who was in office from 1962 to 1965.
The celebration began with a prayer by Rev. Gohar Azmy for the Lord to guard Egypt and the RCG. This was followed by the usual speeches. The former education minister Ahmed Zaki Badr who also heads the board of trustees of the college lauded the school as a microcosm of Egypt; an all-inclusive institution where chapel, mosque and education meet. “My youngest daughter has already graduated from the school,” he said with his typical good humour. “I’ll miss the college till my granddaughters can join it.”
The current principal, Mrs Fadya Makram Ebeid, highlighted the importance of education in building personality and the future of the country. She praised RCG as one of the best schools in Egypt; “our girls weep when they score less than the full mark,” she said.
The Rev. Ikram Lamie, head of the Evangelical Synod of the Nile to which the school belongs, reminded that the Evangelical Church has served in Egypt since 140 years; it owned 23 schools across Egypt, in which 32,000 male and female students were enrolled. And Rev. George Shaker, chairman of the Board of Management of Evangelical Schools expressed a wish to see schools modelled after RCG everywhere in Egypt. A documentary of the history of the school was screened.
The names of the former principals of the college were honoured, among them Dr Shakhashiri who was honoured in person.
The ceremony proceeded with the awarding of certificates to the 300 members of the graduating class and words by their representatives. “300 graduates of RCG make 300 walking schools in Egypt,” they said.
The RCG was founded by Ella O. Kyle in Cairo in 1908 as the American College for Girls, a missionary school of the United Presbyterian Church of North America. Five American women served in succession as principals, and it was thanks to them and their huge efforts at fundraising in America for the cause of educating women in Egypt that land was purchased and the various buildings were in time erected.
It was a time when the feminist movement in Egypt was just taking off, and the elite were eager to give their daughters an education.
The first classes began in December 1909 in an as yet unfinished building with an attendance of 29 pupils who swelled to 180 in a matter of four months. The school took off.
The formal Service of Dedication, however, did not take place till 28 March 1910. In her history of the school, Martha Roy (1913 – 2011) who was with the school for 15 years as teacher, administrator, then president of the board in 1964, writes that the ex-president of the US, Theodore Roosevelt was returning from a hunting trip in Central Africa and “graciously consented to speak at the formal service of the dedication of the building.” Dr Roy quotes President Roosevelt: “The spirit of religious ardour and personal sacrifice is markedly present in the founders of this college. It is their purpose to develop the girl in body, mind, and spirit…to teach her to know God and to direct her life by that light and truth which have their source in Him.”
Miss Kyle served till 1912. Her sudden death was unexpected; she was buried in the American cemetery in Old Cairo. The epitaph on her gravestone carries the message: “In 1910 she founded the American College for Girls in Cairo, the fulfilment of a long cherished dream, the monument of a consecrated life.”
Succeeding Miss Kyle as principal were four other American women, each in her own way an epitome of dedication. Miss Carrie Buchanan served from 1912 to 1916, Miss Alda Atchison in 1916 – 1923, Dr Helen Martin in 1923 – 1956, and Dr Sarah Meloy till 1962. In the meantime the college grew in space, buildings, student and teacher body, and education. The buildings were named after these gracious women; plaques that commemorate each of them adorn the college.
Apart from the principals, the college boasted teachers and educators whose role and imprint on the college were unforgettable. Prominent among them was Miss Emilia Badr who began with Miss Kyle and diligently served the college as supervisor of the boarding department till she retired in 1954. Dr Roy describes her as “a [necessary] link between Eastern and Western cultures”. She was also a strict disciplinarian, and stories abound on the fear she invoked in boarders and students, but she was always alert to advise students when this was called for.
There was also Miss Fatma Hamza who served for more than half-a-century in the college.
In 1962, schools owned and managed by foreigners were turned over to the Egyptian Ministry of Education. The ACG was transferred to the Evangelical Church’s Synod of the Nile. Dr Shakhashiri was appointed principal. Her term of service ended in 1965, and the Synod Board of Management appointed Mrs Farouza Barsoum as principal till 1967 when the great educator Mrs Reda Salama stepped in.
The school’s name was changed into the Ramses College for Girls in 1967.
Following Mrs Salama were Miss Berlante Wahba (1992 – 1996), Mrs Samia Nimr (1996 – 2002), and Mrs Fadia Makram Ebied, currently in office.
All through, ACG and RCG students have been grounded in the Arabic language, as well as in English and French. They have been given an excellent knowledge of the arts, sciences, and humanities; and drilled in physical education, music, and home economics. Dr Martin initiated a programme for girls with special needs, and the college alumnae also launched their own programme for social service in rural areas.
The college boasts distinguished alumnae along the different generations. Dr Soheir al-Qalamawy, the writer who contributed to shaping Egypt’s cultural scene both as scholar and feminist and who passed away in 1997; the prominent workers in the social and development fields Yusriya Loza and Siyada Greiss; the lawyer Mona Zulfiqar; and rights activist Ghada Shahabandar, are but a few.
The school motto: “Enter ye to learn; Leave ye to serve” materialises in every way in the lives of its graduates.
23 November 2013
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