Meet 'Didi', the German woman teaching children at rural Egyptian village

Shounaz Meky
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In a remote village by the Nile River, barely spotted on a map, a German woman has established a school for teaching underprivileged Egyptian children how to read and write.

Six years ago, Diana Sandor first visited the small village of Baharwa, near Ayat in the governorate of Giza. By communicating with residents, she understood that the impoverished village lacked a school and that is when her project, “The Nile River School,” came to light.

egypt school
egypt school

“Didi,” as most residents like to call her, says her school offers a friendly learning environment for nursery and kindergarten age children in the mornings. While in the afternoon, older children use it as a center to do their homework and enjoy performing creative activities.

Didi, who studied education back in Berlin and works with an international network dedicated for education, told Al Arabiya English that her main approach is that “everyone is a student and a teacher at the same time.”

She has always wanted to establish a school when she first visited Egypt in 2007 but couldn’t find investors to support her idea.

egypt school
egypt school

Coincidentally, Didi was visiting Baharwa with an English friend, who happens to be married to an Egyptian who hails from the area. “She took me once to visit on a weekend, and I stayed at her house near the river. That’s how I got to know the village and its people,” she said.

“The village looked very simple and very modest. By talking to the people, I understood that they did not have a school in the area. And at that point, I felt it this was the right place to make my school.”

With her books, colors, puzzles and other educational materials, Didi started with 30 children, from those who haven't started walking, to teenagers at the age of 14.

egypt school
egypt school

“I had my books, colors and puzzles, the children loved it, and they would just come.”

“I had music instruments and muppets, little chairs and tables. So it looked like a place made especially for them.”

A classroom would accommodate 25 children, and had shelves to put on their stuff, along with a corner for the “kitchen.”

Didi taught children English, and also helped teach them to read and write in Arabic. She said the children would go to a school at a nearby village, but seemed to be unable to read and write in both languages.

“They would go to a school at a nearby village, but they didn’t seem to learn at it. They had English books that were so advanced, but they were unable to recognize alphabets. So I was shocked because they were fifth and sixth graders. I kept on testing them but they couldn’t write or read even in Arabic.”

“The parents are illiterate, so there’s no chance for them [children] to go out of this cycle.”

egypt school
egypt school

During her first four years, children would learn from Didi, then start helping her in teaching other pupils.

“They picked up English and were able to be translators assisting me with other children.”

On average, over a 100 children have attended her school over the course of years, Didi says.

As a foreigner, Didi has faced some challenges, as some residents were weary of what she’s doing.

She recalled that at some point there had been religious imams calling on parents to stop sending their children to her school.

“There were some announcements at a mosque that parents shouldn’t send their children to my place but that didn't stay for long. People of the village came and checked what I'm doing and so no harm, in addition to that I don’ collect money from children.”

egypt school
egypt school

Through donations, Didi manages to create “incentives” for her students when they learn new things.

Today, the school marks the village on the map, and has inspired another school to be built in the area.

“The most inspiring thing for me is that the parents are happy that their children now have a school and that they are learning.”

“I have two girls now who are sixteen years old who now look after the kindergarten, sometimes mothers come over.”

“It [the project] generates good energy, and its like a seed that you plant and it grows.”

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