The woman who saved the school children


When a fire broke out at a girls’ private school in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, 25-year-old Reem al-Nahari knew she had to act fast.

Along with another female teacher she hurried the schoolchildren outside the building, breaking windows so that they could jump out from higher floors after thick smoke had filled the lower levels and the main entrances.

But after Nahari successfully evacuated her entire kindergarten class, she died trying to save herself.

“The teachers that died were the ones that cared the most to get us out. They put the schoolgirls first,” 12-year-old Razan al-Nagar told Al Arabiya as she sat on a hospital bed, suffering from minor injuries after jumping from a classroom window.

A local civil defense official said on Sunday that along with Nahari, another teacher was also killed in the fire, while 44 others from the school were injured. The school is comprised of a nursery, a kindergarten, a primary school and a middle school.

Nahari’s actions are the stuff heroic stories are made of. To save the kindergarten children, she dropped them one by one from the second floor to rescuers on the ground floor. She then jumped to save herself, but fell and suffered a fatal head injury. She died before paramedics arrived, a Saudi newspaper reported.

Nahari’s father was met by Prince Khaled Al-Fasial, Emir of Makkah region, on Monday, who praised her brave efforts.

Nahari was the sole breadwinner of the family, reported the Saudi Gazette. She paid the rent for her apartment and had been responsible for her family after her mother died in August. She lived in a small apartment with her family and her physically-challenged brother, supporting four other siblings and her father, who has heart problems.

“Reem was very polite and we all loved her,” her uncle, Ali Muhammad Al-Arishi, told the Saudi Gazette. “On Friday night she insisted on sitting up late to talk to her brother and father, even though her father wanted her to sleep early because she was working the following day. She loved to stay up to talk with her father,” he added.

The story has gone viral on social media site Twitter with the hashtag #ReemAlNahari trending in the region. Twitter tributes have been pouring in on from around the world for Reem, her colleague − who was identified as Ms. Ghadeer by schoolgirl Razan − and the families of injured children.

Meanwhile, an investigation into the cause of the fire which had begun in the school basement is now underway, local civil defense official Abdel Rahman al-Ghamdi said on Sunday as families await answers.

(Written by Eman El-Shenawi)