Dubai teacher stranded in Ethiopia continues online classes

Rachid El Gomri has coronavirus symptoms but refuses to give up teaching his pupils in the UAE

Rachid El Gomri, a Spanish teacher from Dubai, went trekking in Ethiopia but is still teaching his pupils remotely. Courtesy: Mr El Gomri
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A Dubai teacher who is stranded in Africa and ill with symptoms of Covid-19 is continuing to teach his Emirates students online.

Rachid El Gomri said his daily interactions with his pupils, 2,500km away in the UAE, had been his only “ray of sunshine” during an otherwise difficult time.

The 46-year-old is one of thousands of residents who have found themselves stuck abroad owing to international flight restrictions following the outbreak of the coronavirus.

But the Spanish teacher said he was determined to continue to support his pupils at Emirates International School in Jumeirah despite his circumstances.

"My rays of sunshine have been my students," he told The National from his hotel room in Ethiopia.

These are difficult times for everyone and as a teacher I try to minimise the disruption.

“Doing video lessons with them has made me feel like I was back in Dubai. It gives me a bit of normality.

“The online teaching is going well. There are some technological issues sometimes but that is normal.

"These are difficult times for everyone and as a teacher I try to minimise the disruption. It’s good to know I am doing something good for my students.”

Mr El Gomri said he had travelled to Ethiopia for a trekking holiday in the Simien mountains.

Since leaving the UAE, however, he has become unwell and developed a number of Covid-19 symptoms.

The teacher described experiencing shortness of breath, a high temperature, fatigue and a loss of sense of smell.

He said was filling his days by writing, teaching, exercising and ordering meals through his hotel room service to avoid going out.

He said he was staying in a hotel 45 minutes from the centre of the capital, Addis Ababa, and was avoiding contact with others.

“I keep going online and checking the Covid-19 symptoms and I have most of them,” he said.

“When I lie down to sleep, I am scared. But when I’m busy, I forget it. It’s been nearly 10 days and my symptoms are improving.

"It’s a difficult situation but I’ve looked and the pros and cons and I think it’s better if I stay away from people.

"I wear a mask and gloves if I have to go out. I don’t let the cleaning lady in so I have a responsible attitude."

During his trip to Ethiopia, Mr El Gomri, who is from France but speaks seven languages and runs a Mandarin club at his Dubai school, said he had altered his itinerary so he could spend three days as an impromptu volunteer to a tribe in the Omo Valley who wanted to practice English.

He admitted he was initially upset at being unable to return home, but now accepted the decision had been taken in the interests of protecting the UAE from coronavirus.

“I was hard to accept at the beginning,” he said. “I thought by having a residence visa and being a teacher it would allow me to come back.

Mr El Gomri with members of an Omo Valley tribe. Courtesy: Mr El Gomri
Mr El Gomri with members of an Omo Valley tribe. Courtesy: Mr El Gomri

"I went through many phases. I felt shock, denial, anger, resentment. It took maybe five or six days to accept it and get over it.

“But then I accepted I was going to be in Ethiopia for a bit and got used to life here. I decided to find a nice hotel with reliable Wi-Fi so I could provide good lessons to my students.

“As a leader, sometimes you have to take painful decisions for the sake of the people, at the expense of a few. I think that is what happened.

“I am thinking of all the residents of the UAE stranded abroad, but in time we will go back to a country where the virus is under control.”

Mr El Gomri's commitment to his students did not surprise his colleagues at Emirates International School, which like all others in the country has switched to e-learning as students stay at home. He is the only one of the school's teachers to be stuck outside the country.

"At this time, we have a lot of very anxious young people, who are in a strange set of circumstances," Shirley Harrison, head of high school, said.

"It would have been so easy for Rachid to just worry about his own situation, but he has put the students first and continued to do his job from his hotel room in Ethiopia.

"He's just been amazing. We all miss him and I'll be glad to see him home."