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Volume 42, Number 5September/October 1991

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A Century of Service

Written by Aileen Vincent-Barwood
Illustrated by Norman MacDonald

"Fifteen years at IC, the festival of my life, will always be with me," writes graduating student Sana Haydar in a letter to the yearbook of International College in Beirut, now observing its hundredth anniversary.

Celebrating the event at various mini-reunions around the world are - among others - Arab, Armenian, Turkish, European, Asian and American alumnae and alumni. All would probably have preferred to gather on IC's old campus in Beirut, to walk again in the shade of its generous trees, to have their spirits lifted once more by the richness of the changing light on the red roofs and sun-warmed stones of one of the finest secondary schools in the Arab world.

But because of the Gulf war and the insufficiently settled situation in Lebanon, a grand reunion in Beirut this year was not to be. Former students have had to settle for regional get-togethers, fond reminiscences about their years at IC, and quiet acknowledgement of their common pride in an institution that has, over the last century, made an indelible imprint on the Middle East.

The 1990 edition of The Torch, the yearbook that printed Sana Haydar's letter, is dedicated "To Beirut: The City That Will Never Surrender." The same could be said about IC itself.

The Torch's photographs, captioned in English and Arabic, are ageless. Clothes and hair styles have changed, customs and behavior grown more open, but the photos show kids in universal poses: jeans-clad figures mugging for the camera or enjoying field trips to the Bekaa Valley, crowning "Miss Torch 1990," putting on plays, editing the yearbook, scouting, clowning at parties, and playing on the IC football field. As always, the year's graduates look attractive, slightly apprehensive, a little sorrowful, but mostly happy and proud.

Beyond their own achievements, they have reason to be proud. Their alma mater's history is impressive, its accomplishments many and its educational stature growing as it celebrates 100 years of service.

More than 90 percent of IC's graduates have gone on to university studies. Many now fill faculty and administrative posts in schools throughout Europe, North America and the Middle East. IC's outreach program, the Educational Resources Center (ERC), has aided education in Africa and throughout the Arab world.

For a school of its size - a total of 3147 students from kindergarten through secondary level at last count, with a full-time faculty of, 173 and 29 part-time teachers - IC's roster of illustrious alumni and their achievements is remarkable. Among its former male and female students are prime ministers, cabinet members, members of parliament and ambassadors to the United Nations, the Council of Europe and numerous countries. They include leaders in the worlds of education, business, health and the national and international civil service, as well as inventors, architects, agriculturalists, musicians, painters, writers, poets and philanthropists. Though most live and work in their Middle Eastern homelands, many have carried their IC experiences throughout the world.

A partial listing of alumni includes:

In Saudi Arabia: Princes Fahd, Faisal and Turki al Sudairy; Muhammad al Sulaiman, an adviser in the royal cabinet; Ali Naimi, Nassir Ajmi, Abdullah al-Ghanim and Faysal al-Bassam, respectively president and CEO, executive vice president, senior vice president for engineering and project management and vice president for public affairs of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco);

In Bahrain: Foreign Minister Muhammad ibn Mubarak Al-Khalifah, Education Minister Ali M. Fakhro and Planning Minister Yusuf Shirawi, as well as Abdullah Kanoo, chief executive officer of Yusuf Al Kanoo Company, and business executive Muhammad Khalifat;

In Qatar: Director General of Customs Ahmad Othman Fakhro;

In Lebanon: former Prime Ministers Selim el-Hoss and Saeb Salam, Education Minister Najeeb Abu-Haydar, Arab Banking Association " President Anwar el-Khalil, and former Minister of Public Works Walid fumblatt.

ICs 12,000 international alumni - its "extended family," as they like to be known - are represented in positions of leadership on every continent but Antarctica. They pride themselves on being graduates of a school of such reputation that, very often, they can refer to it anywhere in the world simply as "The IC" and find that someone within earshot either knows the school, has been there or is a graduate.

Many undoubtedly share the feeling of Lebanese-born Fouad Ajami, director of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies and author of The Arab Predicament. Ajami writes, "If I have gone anywhere academically in my life today it was the gift of that school that enabled me to do so.... The excellence of the place and the freedom.. .enabled me to see that there was a world beyond Lebanon.... I can write you volumes about the men and women who taught me there, about the world of books and discipline and devotion that that school opened up for me...."

"For me," wrote historian Hisham Sharabi of Georgetown University, former director of the Center for Contemporary Middle East Studies and chairman of the Jerusalem Fund, "the most important influences were three: First,... IC gave me the means to decide the areas and disciplines most suited to my interest and temperament. ... Second, at IC I was provided with the mental tools and basic orientations for independence of judgment.... Third, life at IC was the avenue for many friendships that have ever since been central in my life."

So strong are such ties, so great the affection, that IC graduates with children of their own, forced to flee Lebanon because of the civil war, set up a school in London modeled on their alma mater so that their children would not miss the school's special brand of student-centered education.

Today's emphasis, says IC President Gerrit Keator, is what the school's mission has always been: to teach students the basic values that draw all peoples and religions together.

"That's the one thing that will make all their academic knowledge work," Keator says, adding, "If our students were not imbued with self-confidence and the spirit to serve others, IC would be no different from a host of other schools. But it is different. We do book work as competently as any school anywhere in the world, but along with it we give a good grounding in self-worth and independent thinking. We also teach a value structure that will serve our students throughout their lives."

"At IC," says one graduate, "teachers are highly respected. They are coaches, rather than lecturers, so the kids aren't always competing, but learn to help one another. As a result, we learned early on that helping others is an important attitude to life."

This attitude has also affected Lebanon in indirect, informal ways. Students go out to the villages to offer free tutoring and help to the handicapped. They collect money to buy food and clothing for needy villagers, put on shows for them, and offer assistance in times of emergency. A $50,000 scholarship and loan program has helped nearly 250 less fortunate students attend the school.

Says Katy Gorab, IC's administrative assistant in New York, "We have never sent a student away because of a lack of money."

At IC, students of different cultures and nationalities learn to live in harmony. "Everyone has always respected this," says Howard A. Reed, grandson of IC founder Alexander MacLachlan, "and the result has been that over the years IC has educated so many nationalities and religions in a way of life that has brought East and West together, that many in the Arab world find it hard to imagine."

Reed, professor emeritus of Middle Eastern and Islamic history at the University of Connecticut, has written a history of IC and his family's four-generational connection to it. He remembers his maternal grandfather MacLachlan - originally a hardworking Scottish-Canadian farmer from Chatham, Ontario - as a big man, keenly athletic, and motivated by service to others. Though he was. a missionary, Reed says, his grandfather was first a teacher who wanted people to realize their full potential in their own faith.

In 1891, Alexander and Rose Bladder MacLachlan founded The American Boys School in Izmir - then Smyrna - Turkey. The school's original staff of five lived and worked in a rented house, conducting classes in English, French, history, geography, Bible studies, mathematics and science. They also did social work, aided war orphans in the 1920's, instructed non-students in manual skills and printing, and prepared local textbooks. They established the first electric lighting plant in the Ottoman Empire as well as the first seismograph, the first observatory, the first Boy Scout troop, and the first research center on Turkish history and culture.

On the sports front, the MacLachlans' small school, renamed The American High School for Boys in 1892, held the first interscholastic athletics field day in the Ottoman Empire the following year, an event that attracted 3000 to 4000 spectators and led to formation of the Smyrna Schools Athletic Association later that year and the broader Pan Ionian League in 1894. Historian Reed calls these events "a useful prelude" to the first modern Olympic Games at Athens in 1896.

In that year, the school became The American Collegiate Institute for Boys, and by the turn of the century, it was generally regarded as the leading university prep school in the Ottoman Empire. Incorporated into the American Board of Foreign Missions in 1902, it became the International College of Smyrna, Turkey. So advanced were its first 43 graduates in their studies that they were admitted to the Universities of Geneva and Chicago and to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology without examinations.

Throughout the next three decades of war, civil strife and rising Turkish nationalism, IC continued to graduate students and serve its host country in a multitude of ways. During World War I, staff and students helped feed and care for some 1200 needy people, and though many teachers and older students were mobilized and shortages of food, fuel and funds became acute, IC managed, at the close of the war, to feed and house 2000 disabled Allied prisoners of war awaiting exchange. Those who died were buried on campus. Among the soldiers who later, in appreciation, donated a silver cup to IC was author A.A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh.

But in 1934, because of increasing government restrictions and protests against it as a foreign institution, IC decided to leave Turkey. The Board of Trustees accepted an invitation from Bayard Dodge, then president of the American University of Beirut, to move the school - lock, stock, name and resources - to Beirut, where it joined with AUB's "Prep" section. Its reputation for student-centered learning preceded it: In 1936, its first year of operation in Beirut, IC enrolled 900 students from over 30 countries. For five years it remained a part of AUB, then became an affiliate, and finally gained independent status in 1960. In 1957 it admitted its first girls to the secondary school, and in 1974 to the lower grades. (In 1973, IC celebrated the centennial of the old AUB prep section. See Aramco World, September-October 1973.)

Today's President Keator, a Yale graduate and former member of the Board of Trustees, administers two functioning campuses, one the original, shaded four-hectare (10-acre) campus in Ras Beirut that has five classroom buildings, three libraries, and an administrative building; the other, a two-building facility at Ain Aar in East Beirut that provides schooling for about 450 students. For security reasons, Keator has still not traveled to either campus since becoming president - though he did so earlier as a board member - and must operate from the offices of the parent Near East College Association in New York. But he is in close touch with both campuses and with IC Deputy President Edmond Tohme, an IC graduate and former lecturer at AUB, who has taught and administered at IC for over 20 years. Keator also travels frequently to the region to confer in person with teachers and administrators at meetings in nearby countries.

"The founder saw IC as a place that would provide the children and youth of the Middle East with a cross-cultural, international education, free of prejudice. We continue to do that," Keator says.

It has seldom been easy. In the 15 years of Lebanon's civil war (See "IC and the Lebanon Crisis," page 26), IC faculty, staff and students have daily braved shooting and crossed checkpoints to get to school, observed "shell days" - rather than "snow days" - when they couldn't get to school at all, and missed after-school activities so they could get home early. During the civil disturbances' of 1989, they saw their cafeteria and two classrooms shelled, one of their buses shelled and burned, and missed three months of classes.

Yet in this centennial year, the school is full once again, with students from 19 countries attending classes on the Ras Beirut and Am Aar campuses. "And in spite of everything," says Keator, "the students still have the education-work ethic of the founder. It has run deep for generations and continues to the present."

What has made education at IC so different, so special?

Some of the differences are interesting, but superficial. For instance, secondary students at IC can work toward one of three possible diplomas: an American high school diploma, a French baccalaureat or a Lebanese baccalaureat with different requirements - no small feat for a school with such a small faculty. Yet all of the teachers are multi-lingual, able to teach classes in either English or French as well as in Arabic.

The more fundamental differences lie in educational concepts once considered radical and ahead of their time in the Middle East, but now accepted as positive and effective modes of teaching: for example, non-graded classrooms, an emphasis on athletics and extra-curricular activities, student employment for hands-on learning, and school counseling on future careers. All of these concepts were, at the time they were introduced, a far departure from the century-old, French-pattern norm of Lebanese education.

With the success of 100 years now solidly in hand, President Keator and the Board of Trustees are setting goals for the year 2000.

Over the years, IC has relied primarily on student tuition to finance its non-sectarian, non-profit operation. Nowadays, with the damage from the civil war to be repaired, American aid being cut, continued government support in doubt, and the cost of educating one student exceeding one student's tuition, the financial gap has had to be closed by using annual gifts and by dipping into the school's endowment funds - not a healthy situation. Funds fall far short of needs.

Yet school administrators and trustees are optimistic that, in this centennial year, IC's friends and alumni will remember the school that helped them launch their careers, and give accordingly.

"The Middle East will not always be in the fragmented state it's in now," says Keator, "and when its problems are resolved and life can once again revert to peace and harmony, IC students - because of their training and experience - will be at the center of things: the center of reconstruction, the center of growth and, perhaps, the center of a new era."

Aileen Vincent-Barwood is a former Middle East correspondent, newspaper editor and author of "North Country Editor," who now free-lances from upstate New York.

The ERC: Reaching Out

Because of the demand that the school's success created for an IC-style education, International College's Board of Trustees decided in 1971 to make the school's experience and resources available to other Middle Eastern institutions. Thus was created the Education Resources Center (ERC), whose mission is to assist governments, international agencies and secondary educational projects.

President Keator sees ERC as a wellspring for IC’s own and other teachers throughout the Arab world – "a libray of theory and experience for the teacher as student, who will learn his or her lessons from the student as teacher."

In Lebanon, Oman and Kuwait. In Syria, Jordan, the UK and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and from Greece to Nigeria, Iraq to Yemen, IC’s core of faculty and administration consultants spread out year-round. Through their varied specializatrions, skills and backgrounds, they provide hands-on assistance that ranges from demonstrating management techniques, trainingteachers, developing curricula and evaluating programs to actually building schools.

In Yemen, ERC worked with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to provide a child-care center. In Bahrain, it helped set up a model school, in Saudi Arabia an early-childhood teacher-training center. In Sharjah, UAE, the Al-Qasimia International School, now in its second year, has 250 students. Like all ERC-sponsored schools-which pay a fee to be affiliated with IC - the Al-Qasimia School has access to IC’s specialists from other educational institutions, both within and outside Lebanon, and to other professionals in architecture, design and printing.

In Oman, in 1974 Sultan Qaboos asked ERC to establish a coeducational boarding school of the highest quality where
students, Omanis as well as those from other Arab countries, could develop into leaders. He wanted, he said, students who were ethical, self-reliant and versatile, and who would have an international perspective. In a complete turn-key operation, ERC planned, equipped, staffed and supervised the school, which opened in 1977 in Seeb, Oman.

In Lebanon itself, ERC has provided professional help to 10 schools. In the village of Kfar Falous, a new elementary- and secondary-school complex, housing the beginnings of a hospital and a university, is rising amid the hills above Sidon.

On the western side of the Bekaa Valley, the Educational Centre of Omar Al-Mukhtar encompasses a kindergarten and an elementary school, and in planning intermediate and secondary levels, as well as vocational, social and recreational centres.

"ERC’s prime concern is with the physical, mental and emotional growth of individual students," Keator says. "We want to see every child, from early childhood through college level, thrive and prosper."

IC and the Lebanon Crisis
Written by Howard A. Reed

On October 21,1971, a six-million-dollar, 69 hectare (170-acre) complex of arched and arcaded buildings designed by world-famous architect Edward Dwell Stone was dedicated as ICs long-awaited second campus (See Aramco World, September-October 1973). The complex occupied a commanding hilltop near the village of Mechref, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of Beirut. Unfortunately, the onset of the Lebanese civil war less than four years later marked the beginning of the end of the ambitious project.

After April 1975, regular academic programs at the Mechref campus had to be abandoned because of the dangers and disruptions of the civil war. An JC presence, to provide at least token continuity and deter possible intrusions or looting, was maintained for several months by a few staff volunteers led by Thomas Weaver, head teacher of English, and historian Nimr Ibrahim, later joined by Maurice and Yvette Dumont, who lived nearby. But repeated occupations and threats by successive militias eventually forced even these intrepid IC veterans to withdraw.

As the civil war and external attacks continued, it became harder for teachers, staff and students from East Beirut to get to school at the main Has Beirut campus in me western sector of the capital Space was eventually rented from the neighboring American Community School to accommodate classes and house staff members unable to commute from their homes. Despite the dry-wide bombing and shelling of 1976, which culminated in the bombing of the IC campus itself on Jury 4th, the school avoided any casualties mat year and managed to graduate a large class of 246 students.

New IC President Alton Reynolds took effective charge of the school from about October 1976. By this time the civil war was exacting even greater sacrifices. The Lebanese crisis continued to escalate, taking on international dimensions by 1982. The widening of the conflict was another blow to IC’s prolonged efforts to obtain urgently needed additional campus space-efforts which had again been on the verge of success, IC had purchased the small campus of the fanner British High School near the Beirut airport at Bishamoun. Building modifications had been made and an Olympic-sized swimming pool donated by Elie A. Sehnaoui, a trustee and alumnus, was to have been prated on the very day that the 1982 Israeli began. (IC still owns, but as yet doesn't use the Bishamoun campus.)

Reynolds and ICs resilient staff and students persevered against overwhelming odds to pursue their educational objectives. Year after year, me school proved it could provide a good education and graduate reasonably well-prepared students, despite disheartening crises, disruption and eventually, even casualties. Students continued to produce plays, poems, and even a championship basketball team , and to publish the substantial Torch yearbook, full of pictures testifying to the ongoing academic and extracurricular life of IC.

In his annual letters to graduating seniors, President Reynolds revealed some of his thoughts and hopes in the face of Lebanon’s and IC’s traumas. In 1983 he quoted the Chinese sage Kwan-Tzu: "When planning for a year – sow corn. When planning for a decade – plant trees. When planning for life – train and educate men!" He added: " This Chinese proverb … often helps me to put into perspective what we are attempting to do so as a school community, particularly during these turbulent years…One never really stops learning, and skills and study habits and attitudes that you have developed this year in your formal schooling should open up new visions and opportunities for a better life. This growing awareness of one’s potential, which is central to our educational philosophy at IC, is expressed in another saying: ‘A child’s mind is candle to be lit, not a cup to be filled."

In 1985, Reynolds told the graduating class: "It occurs to me that our success as a school owes much to the qualities you have brought and shared with us…Unfortunately, in such turbulent times, we have been so overwhelmed with concern for security, for finances, for providing classrooms when damages have occurred and campuses lost that our appreciation of the most precious element of the school has unintentionally been diminished. Each student in unique, with hidden talents and resources that only need to be tapped. My message this year is a special tribute to all students of IC."

At long last, the unusable Mechref campus was sold in December 1985, not long after the purchase of the old British Embassy premises in Ras Beirut. This spacious building relieved much of the growing pressure for classrooms and other space. IC enrollments had climed well above the 2500 level, some five time the number of students originally anticipated when the first campus was being built before World War I.

The dangers increased, especially for a highly visible American like President Reynolds. Hostages were being seized. His family reluctantly went home to Massachusetts; Al Reynolds and his friend and colleague Tom Weaver moved to a then safer East Beirut. Weaver reports that Reynolds kept working ceaselessly for his beloved school, but was finally overwhelmed by a fatal heart attack brought on by anxiety and overwork in October 1986.

IC’s stunned trustees appointed one of their number Thomas Hill, interim president and named Edmond Tohme deputy president. In the years since then, with the appointment of Gerrit Keator as president, the school has moved indomitably onward, living its non-sectarian principles, toward the time that keator and the global IC community looked forward to: when peace and harmony seem possible again in Lebanon. IC will be well represented in the rebuilding.

This article appeared on pages 18-29 of the September/October 1991 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for September/October 1991 images.