Among the several generations of Egyptian girls who have had an education at the RCG, Watani is happy to cite three testimonials. The first belongs to Samira Kamel Girgis, better known in Watani as Samira Sidhom—the wife of the paper’s founder Antoun Sidhom and mother of the current editor-in-chief Youssef Sidhom.
The second is the testimony of Yolyana Radamis Zaher who was Miss RCG and is today in university. And the third is that of the 9-year-old Liandra Robeir al-Faris, a pupil in Year 3 Primary.
Samira Kamel, Class of 1943: The good old days
My mother, Samira Kamel, was an alumna of the class of 1943 of the American College for Girls. Even though this sounds like ages ago, she frequently reminisces about her days at school; anyone who has known Mummy can easily see how much her school days have been formative in her character.
My mother came from Upper Egyptian origin; both her parents came from Upper Egypt’s capital city of Assiut, some 350km south of Cairo. Her father, Kamel Girgis, had earned a degree in education, and rose to become one of Egypt’s prominent educators—he has a book to his name—and was an active member in the Coptic Orthodox Church which was in those days at the threshold of its 20th-century renaissance. My maternal grandmother was a homemaker who brought up six children, two boys and four girls.
The four girls went to the ACG. The ‘college’, as it was fondly denoted, prided itself on educating entire families, the Kamels being one such case. My mother remembers that the principal, Dr Martin, always made a point of maintaining a close relation with parents.
“When we went to school,” Mother says, “values, knowledge, and respect for our country were of top priority. We were taught impeccable Arabic and French, together with the arts and sciences. There were of course the sports and art and music activities; I was an avid hockey player.
“I remember Dr Martha Roy as a beloved music teacher. I always saw Dr Roy at our church and wondered what she was doing there, till I learned that her PH.D was in Coptic music.”
“As a student,” my mother says, “I remember there was only one building and the big ‘field’. Later on, other buildings were added: the lab, the library, the gym, as well as the courts. During the years of WWII, we had a huge, well-equipped shelter; and were trained to evacuate the building and rush to the shelter in three minutes in case of an air raid.
“The field, of course, did not serve the mere purpose of being a lovely green, leafy area where we would socialise or hold festivities. It was the favourite spot for girls who’d paly truant; one of them was my own fun-loving youngest sister. She and her equally rebellious friends loved to escape classes and rush to the field where they’d engage in all the activities they were normally banned from, including of course the typical teenage girls’ ‘secret’ beauty recipes and eternal gossip. No penalty was strong enough to keep them off the field; they’d get caught—and punished—time and again, only to go back to playing truant in the field!”
Many teachers left an indelible mark on my mother. Dr Martin left a strong sense of Christian ethics that went far beyond what was right or wrong; it bore on the sense of responsibility. Mummy says, “It was not enough to know that stealing was wrong; we were taught never to leave things lying around then blame anyone for picking them up. ‘Don’t put temptation in the path of others,’ Dr Martin taught. ‘They might not possess the strength to resist it.’”
The Arabic teacher was Mr Francis al-Etr, who was blind and who also held the position of Muallim of the Boutrosiya church, the church of St Peter and St Paul in Abassiya. Muallim, literally master, was the head deacon and chanter, and Mr Etr was among the most outstanding in his day. His strong, mellow voice was one which my mother insists was one of a kind. Mr Etr had learned Arabic at the venerable Islamic institution of al-Azhar; today al-Azhar does not enrol non-Muslims. She remembers a few ‘naughty’ girls who would try to take advantage of the fact that their Arabic teacher could not see, but that turned out to be a big illusion since that singular man was too smart to be duped.
There was also the diminutive Miss Badr who, according to Mummy, was most feared and awed. “Her footsteps shook the school,” Mummy says.
“But Mother, considering how old you were when you graduated, and that you claim to have always been an outstanding student, shouldn’t you have graduated two years earlier?” A puzzled me once asked Mummy when I’d understood enough Math to make that intriguing calculation. “True,” Mummy said. “But the college offered girls an invaluable option during these days: that of doing two years of university education in school. At the time, most Egyptian families would not send their girls to university; it was believed to seriously stand in the way of their getting married. I remember my own parents arguing over that; my father, the eternal educator that he was, wished for us to go to university, and my mother strongly arguing against it to the point of tears. He finally had to give in. But we were able to study freshman and sophomore years at our college; the study was accredited by the American University in Cairo AUC. I graduated after having completed my sophomore year. At our commencement, undergraduate alumni wore dark blue graduation gowns, while sophomores were dressed in white.”
“But there was also another tradition we valued,” she says. “On graduation, we were offered the chance to buy a gold graduation ring with the school logo and our initials inscribed. And guess how much that cost? The princely sum of one Egyptian Pound! (Today worth some 0.17 dollars).”
Yolyana Radamis, Class of 2010:
“The place where new generations rise”
Graduation for Yolyana, Miss RCG 2010, meant the start of a new life. But also, poignantly, it meant stepping out of RCG. Before leaving, Yola wrote this letter:
“I’m writing this letter as a small token of gratitude from a grateful student to her beloved school. I can never thank you enough for the great difference you made to my life; a difference that transformed that shy little girl into a young lady who knows her own mind and is willing to strive in life to achieve her goals.
“Once, I was a seed in your fertile soil and you managed to turn me into a fruitful tree. You never failed to make me appreciate the vital importance of lifelong learning and seek it no matter what it takes.
“You taught me to never fear the unknown or failure. Through you, I realised that true strength comes from within. It is due to you that I finally understood the true meaning of dignity and hard work.
“I acknowledge your great efforts in influencing my life and helping me become the person I am today. You inspired me with a new vision in life based on ethics, optimism, and enthusiasm. You truly were the key that helped me open the gates of success in all aspects. You were always pushing me forward to discover the good in me and in others as well. To me you aren’t just some ancient buildings; you are the place where new generations arise to enlighten the future of our beloved Egypt.
“I shall never forget those wonderful memories we both shared together. I promise you to do my best in order to become worthy of carrying your name wherever I go. It was a great pleasure being an RCGian. No matter how life separates us apart, you will always be there in my heart.
“I will miss you RCG.
My sincere gratitude,”
Yolyana Radamis Zaher
Liandra Robeir, Year 3 Primary:
“It’s more than a school, it’s a college”
When I came from Upper Egypt to work as a journalist in Cairo, I lived in a street that happened to lie at close quarters to the RCG. I would see the students going and coming every day, in their school uniform and outstanding demeanour, and couldn’t help wishing that one day I would have a daughter and she would go to RCG.
Seven years later, my wife Mary and I had our daughter Liandra. When Lili reached school age, we began looking for a good school. With Lili in tow, we applied to a number of schools, but the four-year-old insisted: “I’ll only go to Ramses College”.
It was a happy day when we knew that Lili was accepted at RCG. At the recent celebration, we heard Mrs Fadia say that RCGians cry when they score less than the full mark; Mary and I looked at one another and smiled; this is exactly what Lili does.
“I love my school,” Liandra says. “I’m proud to belong to it. Even its name indicates it’s more than a school; it’s a college. I love and respect my teachers who are invariably kind and understanding. We are taught morals and spiritual matters, side by side with the lessons.
“I feel loved and honoured, and I’m given every opportunity to develop and display extracurricular skills.
“I miss my school during holidays. If it happens that my father has an errand to run in the neighbourhood, I pester him to take me along, just to be close to the buildings even for a short while.”