Ms Feryal Hakeem
Educator, Al Raja School
“I have just celebrated my 50th year as an educator at the Al Raja School. It really is a celebration as being part of the School has given me so much joy. It’s like my second home. I was a student here myself when I first moved to Bahrain as a small child in the 1950s, and I have been a part of this community ever since. Even when I am travelling or away from the School, I think of the staff and students. The school community is very important to me.
The School was established in 1899 when Bahraini women in Manama were looking for a place to educate their daughters. They approached an American woman from the American Mission Hospital by the name of Amy Zwemer and she began to teach the girls to read and write. Through community support and donations, the American Mission School (later renamed Al Raja School) was established. Initially a school for girls, several decades later it became co-educational.
My family moved to Bahrain from Lebanon when I was two years old. My father was a preacher with the National Evangelical Church in Manama. He first came to Bahrain to work for the Church and manage the Church bookshop in the Manama souk. When I was a student, the original school was at the site of the Church with some classes being held at the American Mission Hospital. Back then the classes were smaller and they only offered education up till year 8. Later more classes were added and the current campus (which is a couple of blocks away from the American Mission Hospital) was opened in the early 1990s.
When I graduated from secondary school, the wife of the Pastor of our Church was Principal of the American Mission School. At that time the school needed teachers. As I was gifted at maths, she asked my father if he would allow me to join the school as an elementary maths teacher. As I was young, my father’s permission had to be sought. He agreed to it and I immediately began working as a teacher. At that time there was no teacher training available in Bahrain, so I learned practical teaching skills on the job and with my mentors at work. After several years, the Bahrain Government introduced teacher training and it was only then that I obtained a teaching diploma in Science and Maths.
As a working woman, I never saw myself as doing something extraordinary. I did what I had to do. I raised a family and worked. This was normal for me. After several years at Al Raja, I was promoted from classroom teacher to a supervisory role. Ten years ago, the school moved from an Arabic curriculum to English (with religion, social studies and civics still taught in Arabic). Since then my focus has changed and I have taken on more of an advisory role. Now as I phase into retirement, the school community has been highly supportive. I feel my experience is valued. I think the length of time I have been here says a lot about how special this school community is.
God has been kind to me. To Him I am very grateful. My advice to the women working in the field of education today is to always trust yourself and always challenge yourself. Self-confidence will always help you move forward. There is no end to growth and self-improvement. Whatever stage in life you are at, your learning does not end.”
Mrs Vinolia John
Vice Principal, Al Raja School
“I arrived in Bahrain as a newlywed in 2001, to join my husband who was employed by the US Navy. As a graduate with a master’s degree in Science, initially Bahrain did not seem like the most exciting place to start my married life and launch a career. I am originally from Bangalore (India) and I love my hometown. From a personal and professional perspective, the transition from familiar surroundings to a new culture and environment was not easy. After a few months of trying to find my feet here, I returned to India for the delivery of our first child. We were at a crossroads as a family then, deciding whether we should return to India for good. When we finally decided that Bahrain was where we would remain, I returned here with renewed enthusiasm to find suitable work. My mother who had been an educator herself, had always encouraged me to follow the path of a teacher, even when I wasn’t sure it was right for me. She understood me better than I understood myself! Thank God for wonderful, caring parents who always have our best interests at heart!
In 2002, I got a job teaching English (at the English Centre of the University of Bahrain) and then after gaining some experience and enjoying the work, I realised that being an educator could very well be the right path for me. I then applied to Al Raja and I was overjoyed when they called for an interview and subsequently hired me. When I think back now, I am grateful for God’s favour, because only God would have known then that I would go on to become the Vice Principal of this school.
Working with children is challenging and initially there were days when I returned home from work exhausted, wondering how I would ever find the energy to return the next day. But as tiring as it was, it was also rewarding. When I recount those early years at the school, I am reminded of the supportive people who were around me. Linda Al Arayed was the Vice Principal back then, and her constant encouragement gave me the confidence to learn new skills and grow as a teaching professional. Linda also offered me new opportunities to work in different roles, from classroom teacher to English coordinator. Whenever I doubted myself, Linda would motivate me and make me realise that I was up for the challenge. I am very grateful to her.
After more than ten years at the school, I was appointed Vice Principal of Al Raja (middle and high school) in 2015. I am the first Asian Vice Principal at the school. It has been my great privilege to serve in this role. I would say that Al Raja has given me a platform to love children, be with children and to wholeheartedly understand them. I now see that there is a purpose in everyone’s life. I truly believe that through God’s guidance I came to teaching. Al Raja is where my spark for being an educator was ignited, turning me into the passionate, creative educator I am today. My sister Victoria also joined me in Bahrain in 2010 and is also employed as a teacher at Al Raja. We are both committed to giving back to the country that has given us so much.
The benefits of being a teacher have not been limited to the classroom. As a mother with a background in education, I feel more equipped to understand and empathise with the experiences of my own children. My professional experience has also aided me in my service to the Church. In my spare time, I act as superintendent of the Evangelical Church School and convener of a Church-run Mothers’ group. Again, I am grateful for the support and mentorship of my friend Maya Westra who had faith in my abilities and was also instrumental in helping me grow as a Church educator. I feel truly blessed to have such kind women in my life who have nurtured me by sharing their own experience and expertise.
Bahrain is the country I call home. I still love Bangalore, but after spending a couple of weeks there, I always look forward to returning to the Island. We have three wonderful children and our daughter was born here. As a mark of respect to the country in which she was born, we have given her the Arabic name ‘Janna’ and the middle name ‘Faith’ as a symbol of God’s faithfulness. I am so fortunate that my dear husband John Clayton and three children have always supported and encouraged my successes. Together we are eternally grateful for the love, respect and sense of belonging we have experienced living in the multicultural community here. No matter where life takes me in future, Bahrain will always be close to my heart. It is a huge part of our family’s story.”
Ms Affaf Al Alyan
Educator at Al Raja
“I was married at 15 and came to Bahrain with my husband from Jordan as a young woman. My husband was an Arabic teacher and was a good man. He always supported me.
I began assisting at Al Raja School in 1976. The grade 2 teacher was on maternity leave and I was employed to cover her class and teach Arabic. After that year, I was asked to stay at the school and continue teaching. A few years later, I had the opportunity to enrol in a teacher training diploma offered by the Ministry of Education in Bahrain.
The teacher training took place at the old palace. I think ours was one of the first batches of students to undertake this training in Bahrain.
I had one child when I was 20. Even with a child, I continued working. When I was growing up, I never thought I would have a career in education or ever have the opportunity to complete a diploma! I’m thankful for the encouragement of my husband.
I love Al Raja School. I love the students and feel like this is my second home. My advice to women in general is to contribute if and when you have the ability and capacity to contribute. Learn from past generations. Also, don’t let age stop you. If you have the ability, then age is not a barrier.”