Abu Dhabi's oldest private school welcomes former pupils for first-ever reunion

Long-serving teachers also went back to class to relive school days from decades past

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More than 100 former pupils of Abu Dhabi's oldest private school returned to the classroom on Saturday for an emotional reunion.

Proud members of the classes of 1990 to 2005 at St Joseph's School travelled to the capital from all parts of the globe to turn back the clock.

It was the first reunion to be held by the Indian-curriculum Catholic school, which was established in 1967.

Several female alumni at the school, where boys study only until grade 4, flew in from the US, India, Bahrain and Kuwait to be part of the special gathering.

St Joseph's is managed by the Apostolic Vicariate of the Roman Catholic Church of Arabia and is run by the Carmelite Sisters of St Teresa, India.

The school, once located along the Corniche, is today housed in a modern campus in Mushrif near St Joseph's Catholic Church.

Reliving happy memories

IT professional Lekshmi Shaiju travelled from the US to be part of the get-together, 30 years after her last day at school.

“There are so many memories tucked in every corner. On these very stairs we used race up to our classes. Nothing much has changed here except for the projectors and smart boards,” she said.

A recurring memory for Ms Shaiju, 46, was the morning school assembly.

“The notes of the angelic church music still reverberate in my ears. We used to look forward to the daily talent show performed everyday by a new student,” she said.

Dubai resident Komal Raipancholia was also visiting the school for the first time since she graduated in 1990.

Engulfed in a wave of nostalgia, she reflected on her craft lessons, sports meet-ups and the much-awaited annual Christmas bazaar.

“Held in the school grounds, it was really the highlight of the year for me,” she said.

“The entire class would start making paper cut outs of Christmas decor much in advance to adorn the classroom windows that overlooked the bazaar area.”

The festival itself was attended by her entire family where they played carnival games and bought an array of gifts.

“We also helped out at the stalls in the bazaar selling Christmas cakes and cookies, or stand in at the usual darts or ring-toss games,” she said.

Her younger sister Shyamal Bhatia, who graduated from St Joseph's a few years later, travelled from Bahrain to be part of the reunion.

An avid sports fan, Ms Bhatia took a keen interest in athletics during her school days, excelling in relay races, shot put and long jump.

Generations of learning

The sisters are the fifth generation of an Indian family that has lived in Abu Dhabi for several decades. As many as six children from their extended family have attended the same school.

They said the school and the teachers have had a profound impact on their lives.

“The school helped me become a strong individual. I was a shy student but my teachers encouraged me to take up drama and perform in front of an audience to gain confidence,” said Ms Bhatia.

The school tour was followed by a cultural programme and dinner.

Preparations for the reunion began about a year ago, said Aneeta Langford, one of the core members of the organising team.

Now a multistorey building, a school which began with only 70 pupils in four classrooms in a house on the beach now serves about 1,300 learners.

Life lessons

Ten senior teachers, who worked in the school for several decades, were also part of the reunion.

Vimla Simon, 76, first came to the UAE in November 1969 and within a few days joined the school.

“We were a handful of teachers back then. I taught all subjects to children of various nationalities,” she says. Ms Simon left and rejoined the school three times, finally retiring in 2008.

Mariamma Rameshkumar has taught chemistry and maths in the school for 35 years. She has been twice awarded by the Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation for Teaching Excellence.

The school remains a popular choice for parents as it provides quality and affordable education, she said.

Ms Rameshkumar has lived in Abu Dhabi for about 40 years and has seen the city transform into a sprawling metropolis.

“I had moved from bustling Mumbai in 1985 to find that life was so quiet in Abu Dhabi. There were only a few buildings in Khalidiya where we lived and just two supermarkets – Choithrams and K M Trading,” she said.

For Parvati Prabha, who studied at the school from 1978 to 1991, life in Abu Dhabi in the ’80s and ’90s were golden years, with minimal traffic, easy access to shopping malls and a close-knit community to be part of.

“After school, many evenings were spent enjoying long walks at the corniche, at the gaming zone in Hamdan Centre or at the India Social Centre, where I trained in classical music, while my father played tennis,” said Ms Prabha, who works as an instructional designer in India.

Among her school memories, outings to Jumeirah beach in Dubai and Hili Fun City in Al Ain remain the most prized.

She takes great pride in the nation's progress, having witnessed UAE’s transformation from its early years.

“Abu Dhabi will always be home to me. Whenever I feel low, I wish I had the corniche nearby. I believe a walk along it could set everything right.”

St Joseph's School through the years - in pictures

Updated: April 29, 2024, 12:42 PM