Sawsan Grace was the Principal of the German Christian School for Girls, in Alexandria. In the interview, she shared her educational and career journey, from her early education and her enrollment in the German School as a student, until her employment at the same school as its Secretary in 1963, then its Assistant Principal in 1973, and finally its Principal.
Born in Alexandria, Sawsan attended kindergarten when she was 3 and a half years old, before joining the German Christian School. Sawsan was named after the daughter of Dr. Yaqout al-Sahwi, who was a close family friend and neighbor. Sawsan’s father, who worked as a cotton trader, had a great admiration for Dr. Yaqout and his family, and considered him a role model. As a result, as soon as Sawsan completed her kindergarten education, her father enrolled her in the German School with Dr. Yaqout’s daughter. The German Christian School in Alexandria, Egypt, was established in 1884, and was entirely run by nuns and Christian sisters who were university graduates, with degrees from Cambridge and other universities. Sawsan recalled that the only teacher who was not a nun was Frau Enkoch, her German language teacher, whom Sawsan described as highly valued and respected at the school to the extent that Sawsan thought she was a nun. Frau Enkoch loved Egypt dearly, and lived in it for almost her entire life. She was loved and admired by the parents because of her relentless support for the students, her high standards, and discipline.
The curriculum at the German Christian School included French and English language classes, while the Arabic language was taught in the later stages of primary education, and after kindergarten. The Arabic teachers were Egyptian nationals who graduated from the Specialized Teachers’ School. At that time, it was not required that the school curriculum abided by the regulations set by the Ministry of Education. During the preparatory stages, Sawsan studied under German teachers, who were seconded from Germany, and the school’s teaching staff was no longer limited to nuns as it used to be.
Sawsan described her relationship with the nuns as based on love, tenderness, and care, while also guided by the proper educational and teaching methods, in addition to the strictness that stemmed from devotion and attention. She explained that the pedagogical system at the German School was not rigid, but wise and well-balanced. It was based on commitment and discipline, and on leading by example by providing good role models for the students to emulate. However, studying at the German school was rigorous.
Upon earning her preparatory certificate, Sawsan joined the commercial studies division at the German School in Alexandria, which was established in 1925, and was the only school division offering technical education on commerce in any German school. The School granted students another certificate, called the “Metrililavia,” one year following the completion of their preparatory education, then guided the girls into either the general secondary or commercial divisions. Sawsan recalled that studying at the commercial division took one year, but was an extremely difficult year. She also recalled that her teaching nun, Ms. Edenud, had a deep sense of responsibility towards the girls, and spent all her time with them, because she was very keen on their success and excellence at the work field. Sawsan added that the students adored their teaching nun, but also feared her at the same time.
Sawsan recounted that the School Principal, Schwester Cecilia, took care of her and stood by her side for the entire duration of the commercial certification exam. When Schwester Cecilia asked Sawsan to take part in the schoolwork, Sawsan’s father agreed, despite his strong objection to the idea of women’s work. He saw no reason or need for his daughter to work, but when he learned of Schwester Cecilia’s desire for his daughter to help the nuns at school, he immediately agreed, because he had high regards for the nuns, and acknowledged their role in raising his daughter. For him, the School was like a home for Sawsan, and the nuns her family.
When Sawsan arrived to help at the school, she found out that the school had adopted a system of changing management every 6 years, and that Schwester Cecilia was assigned to work at the school’s branch in Cairo, while the principal of the Cairo school took her place in Alexandria. The new principal, Schwester Ingabark, allowed Sawsan to work at the school, and fulfilled the desire of the previous principal. Sawsan began with binding books and copybooks, then started to help with preparing the teaching schedules. For a long while, Sawsan was assigned various tasks, until one day she was asked to sign some papers, which she did without looking into their content, only to find out that she had accepted a job offer as the school secretary. Sawsan was officially appointed in 1963 as the School Secretary of the German School in Alexandria.
In 1967, the German schools began implementing the Egyptian educational system, and to follow the Egyptian curriculum. Sawsan served as the School Secretary until the Assistant Principal, Madame Saniya, retired, and Sawsan took her place in 1973, and continued to work at the school until she became its principal.
Sawsan recalled her years of working with the nuns, their sense of commitment, and the mutual love they fostered with the parents. She praised the coordination between the families at home and the school administration, adding that within such an environment of common understanding, the school could find quick solutions to all problems. Even during periods of political instability and war, the nuns maintained a safe and stable atmosphere at the school, and made sure that the school life continued in complete isolation from the political events. Sawsan also recounted that throughout her career, she was constantly keen on developing and upgrading the educational curricula, in order to prepare the students for the official Egyptian certification exams which qualified them for college. Sawsan submitted a request to the Ministry of Education to extend the study duration of the commercial division from one year to three years, and her request was granted, allowing the division’s graduates a chance to qualify for university. In addition, Sawsan, in collaboration with the school’s Arabic language teachers, translated the Egyptian curriculum for the students at the preparatory and secondary stages.
Sawsan Grace loved and enjoyed her work, and saw the school as her home, where she practically lived. She spent more time at school than she did with her family at home. At no point in her life did Sawsan ever feel like she was just going to a workplace. For her, it was more like moving between two homes. Her work was a way of giving back to those who taught her, and shaped her life.