From small apartment in Bur Dubai to large campus in Oud Metha: School started by 4 women turns 50

They still remember the names of their first four students; many of their current staff has remained for over three decades

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Mazhar Farooqui

Published: Fri 3 Mar 2023, 1:52 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Mar 2023, 4:14 PM

A UK curriculum school started by four visionary women in Dubai has turned 50.

Dubai Gem Private School (DGPS) celebrated its Golden Jubilee recently with a special commemoration day and alumni reunions in the UAE, Pakistan and Canada.

“It has been a long eventful, journey from the four walls of a small apartment in Bur Dubai to this teeming campus in Oud Metha,” said an emotional Latifa Rabi as she reflected on her labour of love during a conversation with Khaleej Times.

What began as a modest venture is now a leading educational institution, providing quality education to generations of students.

“We started with a nursery and crèche. Back then, there were hardly any English medium schools catering to the burgeoning expat population in Dubai. We decided to fill the gap,” said Bibi.

In 1978, Dubai’s late ruler Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum granted the school land in Oud Metha, enabling its expansion.

‘We have come a long way since Sultana and I set the nursery and crèche,” said Bibi. “Looking back, it’s hard to believe now that we have a high school that offers an internationally-recognized UK curriculum and has students from FS1 to Year 13m."

Bibi, originally from Mumbai, India, has spent most of her life in the UAE and considers it her home. Although she does not hold Emirati citizenship like her sister and cousins, the septuagenarian identifies as Emirati. "I am every bit an Emirati," she said.

Sultana Rabi said she considers the DGPS as her dream child as she has seen it evolve from a crèche to a nursery in 1973, then to a junior school and finally to a senior school in 1996.

“The work to get the school to where it is today has been tireless,” she said.

Her cousins Raana and Rehdwana shared their memories in a commemorative magazine chronicling the school’s history and the milestone it achieved.

“We have fond and vivid memories of the first day of school when we welcomed four children through our doors,” they said in a joint message. “We still remember their names: Hesham Ali Mustafa, John Eapen, Salem Desmal and Afsha Wahid.”

Jean Grattan, who served as the principal of the school from 1983 to 2006, said she recognized Sultana Rabi’s visionary approach to education the day she met her, and felt an instant connection. Grattan went on to compose the school song, 'When you think you’re looking wide, look wider still.'

Bibi said they have been lucky to attract and retain top quality teachers and staff.

The school’s current principal Humera Ibrahim who joined as a teacher has herself been with the school since 1991.

Vice principal Poonam Mahendra, administration manager Sheela Mistry are among many others who have been serving the institution for almost three decades.

Humera Ibrahim
Humera Ibrahim

“The school's supportive and nurturing work environment has fostered a strong sense of family among its staff,” said Humera Ibrahim as she recalled how Bibi used to personally handwrite every paycheck and thank the teachers and staffs as she handed them over in a sealed envelope.

While the process of paying salaries has become more convenient with the advent of technology and salaries being credited directly to the bank, Bibi still misses the personal touch of handing over paychecks to her staff members with their names written on the envelopes. "I remember each of their names and the effort they put in every day to make our school a success. It was a way for me to show my gratitude and appreciation for their hard work," said Bibi.

"Our teachers and staff work with us, not for us. They are an integral part of our school's success, and we treat them like family," she added.


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