Mary Kassab School
Founding an entirely national school in concept, management and financing.
In 1916, when the Ottoman authorities ordered the closing of foreign schools, Mary Kassab gathered in her home sixteen boys and girls who were enrolled at the British School and pledged to ensure their continuing education. As soon as she started her modest work, parents of all walks of life began to send their children to her, and that was the nucleus of Ahliah School.
The following year, sixty students were enrolled, and Mary Kassab was authorized to open a national, non-denominational and co-educational school.
With the help of her brother Aziz and two of his friends, Boulos Khawli and Anis Makdissi; she formed a board of trustees. The board started to raise funds from Lebanese and Arab residents and Lebanese emigrants and were able to purchase the present campus of Ahliah from the Scottish mission.
Among the donors were :Some of Ahliah’s teachers; King Faysal 1 of Iraq; Doctor Bayard Dodge, President of the American University of Beirut; Ahmad Amin Bey, Prime Minister of Syria; Sheikh Taj El-Din Al Hussayni, Head of the Syrian State; Mrs Nazira Jumblat; Jibran Khalil Jibran; Amin Al-Rihani; May Ziadeh; Emir Said Al-Jazayri; Bishop Raphael Nimr; The Sacred Heart Association; The Young Muslim Association; Doctor Youssef Hitti; Bishop Boulos Khoury; Aziz Shukri & George Kassab; Doctor Fares Nimr; and many others.
Under the French Mandate in Lebanon, the activities of Ahliah were genuinely nationalistic. The school embraced the new scouting movement which included all Lebanese children. It was the first of its kind in the Arab World. Alice Abkarios at Ahliah undertook the translation of the scouting rules into Arabic.
The Mandate authorities tried to tighten their control over the school and in 1924, they ordered its closing. The students (predominantly girls) organized a rally and walked into the Government Palace to defend the cause of the school before the High Commissioner. Ultimately the French authorities yielded to pressures and repealed the decision.
AL-AHLIAH GIRLS’ COLLEGE
Flourishing an education based on self-confidence.
In 1950, Mary Kassab School became Ahliah Girls’ College. Boys were admitted at the elementary level only. During this time, Ahliah became one of the foremost educational institutions in the country. This achievement was made possible through the efforts of its Board of Trustees, which included prominent members of the intellectual, educational and social elite of the country, and through the dynamic leadership of its second principal, Mrs. Wadad Al Makdissi Cortas, who took office in 1935. Mrs. Cortas who was keen to diversify the educational activities of the school, devoted much attention to culture and art in the school’s mission.
The establishment of the Music Academy at the school, under the leadership of Alexis Boutros, was a landmark achievement at Ahliah, testifying to the high standards adopted by the school in cultural and artistic education. Ahliah’s choir brilliantly represented Lebanon in many capitals of the world, with some one hundred performances on their record.
Spurred by the excellent reputation of the school in Lebanon and abroad, enrollment increased dramatically. As the school needed additional space, the Ahliah campus was gradually expanded with the addition of appropriate facilities to meet the needs of the students.
Ahliah became a focal point in Lebanon and for all kinds of educational activities. Prominent researchers and scholars were invited to come and talk to the students. And when the Ford Foundation equipped the school’s science laboratories as a model, Ahliah opened its doors to other schools in Lebanon and made available to them the vast resources of its audio-visual library.
In those days the image of the Ahliah student, dressed in navy pleated blue skirt, white shirt and navy blue scarf, became well known as the prototype of the modern and enlightened young Arab girl.
AHLIAH SCHOOL IN BEIRUT
Ahliah’s steadfastness during the catastrophe of war.
Situated in the heart of old Beirut, Ahliah found itself at the center of many battles during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Its buildings sustained a great deal of damage. The demography of the neighborhood changed dramatically, to include the families of the displaced. Its academic standards also suffered severely because of the departure of many of its faculty and students.
For the first and most violent two years of the war, Ahliah had to close. It reopened in 1977, under the leadership of Mr. Nicholas Zayyat, previously a teacher of mathematics of senior classes at the school.
Throughout the war years, the main concerns of Mr. Zayyat together with other members of the school administration were to guarantee the security of students and to preserve the school’s buildings and infrastructure. Unable to keep former academic standards, Mr. Zayyat was keen on continuing the humanitarian and patriotic mission of the school by providing education to the numerous severely disadvantaged students and to children of parents reduced by the war to becoming squatters in its vicinity. Though often these parents were unable to pay full fees and sometimes they were unable to pay any fees, a wisely-engendered wartime cooperation between them and the school was instrumental in guarding the school and facilitating its continued functioning. Eventually wartime Ahliah had 750 students enrolled. By this time it had become totally coeducational.
Despite the dangers and insecurities faced, the idea of moving the school from its historic location was repeatedly rejected by Ahliah’s Board of Trustees. In so doing, they were asserting the school’s belonging to the heart of Beirut as well as their faith in a better future for the country.
POST-CIVIL WAR IMPROVEMENTS
Ahliah steadfastness during the catastrophe of war.
After the war ended and the country settled back into peaceful times that also witnessed the rebuilding of downtown Beirut and another dramatic demographic turn-back of the school’s neighborhood, the Board of Trustees of Al- Ahliah began a radical return to Ahliah’s previous standards by reviving and modernizing its mission. A new principal, Dr. Najla Hamadeh, a graduate of the school’s golden age and a member of its Board of Trustees, was appointed to execute its revival. During Hamadeh’s tenure (1999-2005), Ahliah was able to accomplish the following:
Most important of all, the revival of Ahliah aims at reinstalling in its students the spirit of independence, of national and humanistic involvement, and of faith in the ability of each individual to make a difference. In accordance with Ahliah’s mission, it works to engrain in its students the joy of learning and to give them room to grow and incentive to respect themselves and everything that God created.