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“For me, it’s not only a school — it is a big family, where I feel safe to send my daughter every day,” says Eman Hassan, physician and mother of one student. “I trust these people.”

Before her daughter reached school age, the family searched far and wide for a good school. They chose St. Vincent de Paul School because of the quality of its graduates.

“Sometimes, someone distinguished draws my attention; in many cases, I discover that these people graduated from the sisters’ schools,” Mrs. Hassan says.

“My colleague at work graduated from the sisters’ school. She is so good, and I want to see my daughter become just like her,” Mrs. Hassan said.

Every year, some 600 to 700 children apply to join the school. Only 90 are accepted to both the English- and French-language sections. To ensure a fair chance to all applicants, the only selection criterion is age, with priority given to older applicants.

“The school works with us in rearing [my son] Mark with high moral and educational standards,” says Heidi Aziz, mother of one student.

St. Vincent de Paul School operates under the umbrella of the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools, which includes some 165 Catholic schools in Egypt. Those who graduate from schools run by the sisters are known for open and tolerant attitudes.

According to Sister Eman, half of the student body is Muslim and half is Christian, but the matter of religious difference is not an issue in the school.

Sister Eman recalls that a Muslim man belonging to a strict Salafi family came to the school to apply for his two daughters. She asked him, “Do you know that our school is a mixed gender?”

He replied, “Yes I know. I’m coming to your school because I will be reassured that my daughters will be in good hands.”

Private schools arrange to interview with prospective students and their parents. Some of these schools discriminate against children from lower social class, and Islamic schools do not accept Christian students. But St. Vincent de Paul School accepts all students, no matter their religion or parents’ occupation.

Once, Sister Simone recalls, a police officer came to the school, angrily complaining that a son of a cleaner sat beside his son in class.

In response, Sister Simone asked the man what had prompted him to enroll his son in the school.

He replied, “I came here because of the good reputation of your school and I wish for my son to be brought up by sisters.”

Sister Simone responded, “Where is the problem when other people have the same wish?”

“But not a cleaner!” he insisted.

Sister Simone pushed back. “Should we build a private school for the son of the cleaner?!” she exclaimed. “Our school is for the son of the cleaner in the first place. If you want your son to learn in our school, he will be side by side with the son of the cleaner.”

The officer left. The following day he returned and apologized for his outburst. He then astonished Sister Simone by offering to pay the tuition of the cleaner’s son.

Sister Simone replied: “The child is in our care, but what you could do is to ask your son to be friends with him.”

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Based in Cairo, Magdy Samaan is a Middle East correspondent for the The Telegraph. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy and a number of other journals.

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