Top photo: Emmanuel Zaid meets with a class at St. Raphael Center for Basic and Secondary Education. Refuge Egypt photo/Monica Mehaffey
I grew up in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. People lived in simple houses with their parents and extended family. I have 11 brothers and sisters.
The area was beautiful. We were surrounded by many mountains. I had friends in school, and we looked after the cows together.
I was exactly 12 years old when we heard people crying and people running. We just ran to the mountains, too, and were hiding in the mountains all day. After some time, we heard the voice of the Antonov helicopters. They were bombing us and the buildings.
It was a tough time. It was unbelievable.
It was difficult to leave, to move from my place to Khartoum (Sudan’s capital city).
After some months, we rented a house. We started to attend Sunday school, and we began school. I attended primary school for eight years and then secondary school.
It was very important for my parents to educate us. We were encouraged to study because we saw what our parents were doing for us. They were working very hard just to bring school fees because of our future.
My mother worked in people’s houses, cleaning and other tasks. My father had experience with some machines. He was working in a factory. Our situation was good. He had money to send us to school.
We were safe there, but we felt like we did not belong to that place because we came from another place.
I graduated from Juba University in Khartoum in 2010. I wanted to be a petroleum engineer, but they required a whole year’s tuition, and I was not able to pay that much. Instead, I studied political science because I just wanted to know about the politics going on in Sudan.
“It was very important for my parents to educate us. We were encouraged to study because we saw what our parents were doing for us.”
After I graduated, men from our tribe sent me to the Nuba Mountains to help our children because we had schools, but no teachers. I joined an initiative to help train teachers for three years. But after only one year and a few months, war came again. We suffered very tough things that time.
So I moved to Juba (a city in southern Sudan) and then Uganda for two years of English study.
War was still going on in Sudan, so I went to Egypt to live with my aunt.
I was thinking about going abroad, but a lot of parents discussed with me the need for people to learn here. I changed my mind and stayed.
In 2015, I began working with St. Raphael Center for Basic and Secondary Education in Nasr City as a principal. Then the school had five classes. Every year, we just added one class.
Right now, we have reached 11 classes, which is full school, primary and secondary school. When students succeed in final examinations and graduate, they can apply to colleges and universities here.
I have 230 students, all from Sudan. Our teachers are central to the school. All of them, they have finished their courses, and they come from Sudan. They are very educated.
Most of our students and teachers are Christian but we have three Muslim teachers. Here I say we have a Sudanese community. We just live together, doing all things together. Religion is a relationship between you and God.
We teach the Sudanese curriculum. Classes are in Sudanese Arabic (a dialect which is more familiar to the refugee children than Egyptian Arabic).
Many students did not go to school when they were in Sudan and their ages are a problem for fitting into the Egyptian school system.
We can get someone who is like 15 years old but would join grade two or three.
We solve this problem by giving them the basics of education. We are pushing them in some classes. They take tests to see if they can move to the secondary level.
In our community, there are a lot of challenges. There are drugs and drinking and crime. Some families are just really struggling to live. The priority is to pay the rent and then feed the families.
I had a student who was 16. I realized that she was not coming to school, and I called the parents and I asked them what was happening. They told me that they sent their daughter to work. They said we don’t have money or food in the home, so this way we take her from school, just to work. If our situation becomes better, she will be back, they told me.
Some parents wait to educate their children until they are able to go overseas, but we warn them this is a bad idea. It will affect the children. They don’t learn and they don’t have work.
Some parents struggle and struggle very much to educate their children and also to feed them. They are suffering. We ask for your prayers and also awareness and advice to just encourage them.
I also want to just give appreciation to partners and all who are helping the school for just encouraging us. It’s wonderful. It’s a big, big, big help, and I am asking God also to bless you all.
MCC supports St. Raphael Center and the work of Emmanuel Zaid through a partner organization, Refuge Egypt. Refuge Egypt staff member Monica Mehaffey conducted the interview for this article.