'Everywhere was a Dh4 taxi ride away': how British School Al Khubairat has seen it all

Teachers remember the early days at the Abu Dhabi school

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The facilities were often basic and the hours long, but the pay-offs were immense. Long before the UAE had branches of global schools and universities, pioneering teachers put down foundations that stood the test of time. They ensured pupils did not have to leave the country and they educated generations of youngsters. To mark the UAE's 50th anniversary, The National has profiled some of these schools.

Though it started out as a cluster of buildings, the British School Al Khubairat has became so ingrained and intertwined with the UAE’s culture that it is hard to imagine that one ever existed without the other.

It all began in 1968 with a plot of land on the Corniche donated by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father.

What was known at the time as Al Khubairat Community School was the result of a merger between the British Political Agency school and the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company school.

I enjoy my life here. It's a great place to live. I love where I work, the people I work with and the whole environment of it
Jo Fahey, Teacher at Al Khubairat (BSAK)

Later renamed the British School – and Al Khubairat (BSAK) in 1980 – the institution is one of the oldest schools in Abu Dhabi and is a cultural melting pot. It also also hosted many special visits over the years from dignitaries such as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

As the UAE developed, so, too, did BSAK, both firmly rooted in their original identity but building on that heritage.

Jacqueline Hamood teaches FS2 and started her work at the non-profit school in 1998, long before the secondary school was built in 2005.

“It started off as a small primary school with just a few classes and then the secondary came. The school covers the same area, but all the buildings have changed,” said Ms Hamood who has witnessed first-hand how both BSAK and the UAE have grown.

“The change is quite incredible. Abu Dhabi was a really small community – you would run into the same group of people everywhere you went.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II visits the school on her visit to the UAE in 1979. Photo: The British School Al Khubairat

“It makes me laugh because we used to live on campus and everything was within a Dh4 taxi ride away.

“Umm Al Nar was miles away and there was the one shop – and you had to take a day trip to get there.

“If you had told me years ago that I would be living today behind the airport, I would say no way. We only went to the airport once a year to go get our family. It was miles away.”

The year of the Golden Jubilee is Ms Hamood’s 23rd year at BSAK, which now provides an education to more than 1,900 pupils aged 3 to 18.

“People ask me all the time why I’ve stayed with the same school for so long.

“Geographically, we have stayed in the same location, but the memories I have of 20 years ago are not here in this building, but somewhere entirely different. Everything is different.

“That is why it is so easy to stay here because there are so many changes. It doesn’t feel like the same school but four different schools.”

Jacqueline Hamood teaches FS2 and started her work at the British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi in 1998. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

BSAK has long been considered one of the best schools in the country.

“As soon as you said you work in Al Khubairat 20 years ago, people would say, 'Oh, that’s a good school', and that still hasn’t changed and that’s what I love about it,” Ms Hamood said.

Sahar Ramy Rageh teaches Arabic for non-native speakers and has worked for BSAK since 1995.

Everything has changed, she said, apart from the UAE's culture and traditions.

“This is the good in the people in the UAE – they still keep their traditions and their culture like before,” said Ms Rageh. She added that she feels like the UAE is her second home and she misses it when she goes home to Egypt.

The years have gone by in a flash for teacher Jo Fahey, who has worked for the school for 24 years in the drama department. But the changes have been dramatic, she said.

“There doesn't seem to be a gap now between Abu Dhabi and Dubai anymore,” said Ms Fahey.

“We used to travel to Dubai and there would be miles and miles of desert with camels on it. And it was interesting because if you listen to the radio, there would be warnings of camels on the highway or around the Jebel Ali roundabout.

“The road was just a two-way highway with dips in it and every time you got to a dip, there'd be people selling honey and things to clean your car.”

Like her colleagues, Ms Fahey has no plans of going anywhere soon.

“I'm very content. I enjoy my life here. It's a great place to live.

“I love where I work, the people I work with, and the whole environment of it. And I feel very grateful that I do live here and work in this school – it's perfect.”

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Updated: November 29, 2021, 6:29 PM