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IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Sanaa International School Bombed

By Jim Gilson
17-Jan-16
Sanaa International School Bombed


1 January 2016
To: Friends of QSI
From: Jim Gilson, President of Quality Schools International
Most of you have heard the sad news of the bombing of our school, Sanaa International School (SIS), in Yemen. On the night of 29 December 2015 the school’s dome building was hit by an airstrike and destroyed. Damage was also done to the original classroom buildings. The school facility is effectively destroyed. Attached are photos (before the bombing, during the bombing, and after the bombing). No one was in the building at the time, so there are no injuries.
Apparently this was done by Saudi Arabia (or other coalition bomber). This coalition is advised by the USA. It is hard to understand why our international school would be targeted. The school has taken no part in the civil war and has had no fear from either side in this conflict. Over the years the school has served families from all the parties in Yemen and the branches of Islam. During our time in Yemen I was not aware of who was a Sunni or who was a Shiite. This was not an issue when providing a quality education for families from both.
Margery and I lived in Yemen from 1972 until 2004 (with a couple years of absence on sabbaticals). We had wonderful years in Yemen, while raising our two boys, Marcus and Kevin. Whereas most of our students were expats from over 30 different nationalities, about 40% were Yemenis. Over the years this included a leading Houthi family, two children of the late former President Hamdi, up to 20 children and grandchildren of recent President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a son of the late former Prime Minister Abdulkarim Al-Eryani, and children of many ranking members of various ministries in the government. SIS had excellent relations with Yemenis of all walks of life during the 44 years that the school was open (from 1971 to 2015). As a people the Yemenis are among the most hospitable we know. They are also tolerant of foreigners including being respectful of our different customs and religious beliefs. During our time in Yemen we participated in Christian church meetings. This came to mind one day when I went with some of our teachers to the President’s palace for parent-teacher conferences. The head wife of President Ali Abdullah Saleh was the communicator on behalf of the others and the subject of my participation in Christian activities came up. I thought, “Oh, what kind of difficulty will this bring to us, since we are in a solid Islamic country?” I was surprised to hear her say that this is one of the reasons the President enrolled his children in our school in that he knew that our teachers had moral values that differed from what is promoted by Hollywood. The President wanted wholesome values modeled by his children’s teachers, rather than the model that is evidenced by some American movies.
The late Dr Abdullah Barakat, who we called the “father of the school”, was the most supportive and helpful Yemeni in the school’s history. He first came to enroll his children in the school in about 1974 when he returned to Yemen after a time as ambassador to Algeria. Dr Barakat had five children enrolled in Sanaa International School, at least four of whom went on to obtain university degrees in the USA.
Abdullah had a number of positions in the government, including Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Interior, and Ambassador to Algeria, Italy, Syria, and the UAE. He helped the school in a variety of situations over the years. When we were seeking land for the school construction in 1976, he took me to show a plot of land the government would make available. We walked holding hands (a Yemeni custom), with me between Abdullah and Sheikh Mohamed Al-Ghashmi (the leading sheikh of the area). They told me that this is the land we could have. After they left for a tree planting ceremony, I sat down on the side of a hill to try and visualize a school on this site. About 20 minutes later I stood up and said to myself, “Yes! This land will do”. This is the land on which our school was bombed by Saudi Arabia. Many hours of work and the expenditure of large sums of money along with the influence of many people (such as Dr Barakat) resulted in the location and construction of the school.
By the end of the 2014-15 school year we were no longer able to keep foreign staff in Yemen due to the civil strife, thus the school has been on hold in this 2015-16 school year. Now it appears that there will not be a school facility in the event our international school is able to open again in the future.
It is interesting to note that Adel Al-Jubeir was a student in SIS in the mid 70’s. His father was the Saudi Arabian Cultural Attaché in Yemen and came to our school with 5 children that had been in an American school in Germany. Adel’s father arranged for us to get visas (at the Saudi Embassy in Damascus) when we and other teachers bought four VW Microbuses in Amsterdam and drove to Yemen via Saudi Arabia. He was a very good friend of the school. Adel was one of the older children. He has recently been the Saudi ambassador to the USA (2007-2015) and is now the Foreign Minister, stationed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I wonder if he knows that his former school in Yemen has been bombed by his country.
Great efforts were put forth to raise funds and figure out how to construct a school building in Yemen. As mentioned above with the help of Dr Abdullah Barakat, the Yemen Government gave the school about 34 acres of land (for 50 years without charge) in a very good location on the outskirts of Sanaa (we took possession of this land on 22 December 1976). We hired Wout van Dijk from Holland to take charge of the construction (and he stayed with the school as Plant Manager for 26 years!). We were not successful with the first local contractor so Wout took over the project and successfully completed the first classroom building with part of it housing the school’s offices. It is a beautiful design with hexagonal rooms like a “Beehive”. Derek Matthews (British) was with the UN in 1977 when the school was being designed. His creative work resulted in the structure that was completed in the summer of 1978. Jon Bjørnsson, a Norwegian architect who was in Yemen as a UN volunteer, was also involved in the construction of the school and later the construction of the Director’s house on the school property. Jon is very creative and has also designed some of the other QSI schools.
Funds for this project came from grants from the Office of Overseas Schools of the State Department and loans from Citibank (that had a branch in Sanaa at that time). By June of 1978 we had already cleared out of the rented facility that was used by the school from 1971 with plans to have the new facility ready by September of 1978. However, in June or July we ran out of funds to complete the construction. Thomas Scotes was Ambassador and David Ransom was the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) in the American Embassy at that time. They arranged for an additional grant of $100,000 to be made available immediately from the Office of Overseas Schools. This made it possible for the construction to be completed and to be able to start school on schedule in the fall of 1978 in the new facility!
The second building that included a dome with an area for basketball and volleyball along with a stage for performances, was completed in 1992. This is the building that was hit by the bombardment. The dome had a unique configuration and was difficult to construct. When the framework was almost completed it was discovered that there was an error in the drawings that prevented it fitting together. Wout made a model and using the model devised a way to complete the original design as intended. This was a very creative and cost saving maneuver. When this construction was finished, Wout and his crew sat on a platform on the top along with a flag and celebrated this successful accomplishment! The bomb destroyed this dome.
Following is a bit of history of Sanaa International School:
In 1971 I was finishing two years as principal of Nairobi International School in Kenya when I received a suggestion from Wolfgang and Beryl Stumpf (German/British missionaries in Eritrea and Yemen for many years) that the civil war was over in Yemen and that there would be need for an international school in view of the influx of diplomats and other foreigners expected to come to the capital of Yemen. Having been previously the principal (and teacher) of the small elementary Yemen-American Cooperative School in Taiz, Yemen (having been hired by personnel of USAID in Yemen in 1966) and having a positive view of Yemen and the Yemeni people (even though we were evacuated from Taiz in May of 1967 due to Egyptian interference in Yemen), I was interested in returning. I followed this by making a visit to Sanaa in June of 1971 and met with United Nations personnel and others of the few expats then in Sanaa. There was obvious interest in a school, but no funds to get it started. I left these contacts with a mutual desire to open a school in Sanaa, but had no way to finance such a project.
Before leaving Nairobi I had made application for a job with ARAMCO and another to The College of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. When we arrived in the USA (in Tacoma, Washington) I received a one sentence telex from ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia offering a job to teach physics to their adult employees. It took only a few seconds to understand that this was a solution to open the school in Sanaa. With the good salary from ARAMCO we would have funds to provide for establishing Sanaa International School. I also had an offer to teach physics at The College of Petroleum and Minerals, but the ARAMCO job was a better choice financially and easier to withdraw after one year.
So we proceeded to find a Principal (with a teaching spouse) to start the school in Sanaa. I met with Vivian Larson (then the head of the placement department at Seattle Pacific University) and asked her for a recommendation. She came up with Mark Boyd and his wife, Jill. Mark had attended summer school at SPU in 1971 and he and Jill were ready to undertake this kind of a challenge and adventure. Mark inherited his creativity from his father, Alan Boyd, who was Secretary of Transportation under President Lyndon Johnson (and later became President of the Illinois Central Railroad and then head of AMTRAK before becoming Chairman of Airbus Industrie of North America). Mark was thus the school’s first principal (while I had the title of Director during that first year, but while living in Saudi Arabia).
On our way to Saudi Arabia Margery and I (along with Margery’s mother and step-father) traveled to Sanaa in order to undertake arrangements to officially register the school. I wrote a letter to the Ministry of Education (had it translated into Arabic, as I recall) and received a scribbled reply on the letter I wrote that said we had permission to look into opening an international school. That is all we had officially to operate the school until 1977! We appreciate the Yemenis ?.
Mark and Jill launched the school in the fall of 1971 with four students, a brother and sister from Palestine, a 4 year old from France, and a child from Bangladesh. The school grew to 25 students by the end of the 1971-72 school year! Mark contracted hepatitis during this year, but somehow was able to recover and maintain the progress in the school’s growth. At one point he ran out of money and had to ask one of the parents (who was from the Egyptian Embassy) for a loan so that Mark and Jill would be able to buy groceries! The parent commented that this was probably the first time that Egypt gave educational loans to the USA! I doubt if there is another start of an international school in the history of international education that took such creative and challenging endeavors on the part of the pioneers, as was the case with Mark and Jill. In spite of all the challenges, Mark and Jill provided a positive educational environment for the children in the school. They were called Uncle Mark and Auntie Jill by the students.
With this success engineered by Mark and Jill, it was clear that Margery and I would be able to move to Sanaa in the summer of 1972 and join Mark and Jill for the 1972-73 school year. Our son, Marcus, completed the first grade in the ARAMCO school in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia, in the 1971-72 school year. Kevin reached the age of four during that year and was at home with Margery.
We had our personal goods in a large crate and another box that had our bed in it, totaling about a ton and a half in weight (which we had in Nairobi that was sent by the school there to Ras Tanura, even though it got sent in error to Pakistan and took several months to arrive in Saudi Arabia). The question was: “How do we get this amount of goods to Sanaa?” I arranged for a truck to take it to Jeddah, the Saudi port on the Red Sea. From there we would either find a truck to take it to Sanaa or a boat to take it to the Yemeni port of Hodeidah. In order to take care of the shipment I rode with the truck (a 3 day trip from Ras Tanura to Jeddah). However, when we got to Riyadh (about a third of the way to Jeddah), it occurred to me that I had no idea where to tell the driver to take this load once we arrived in Jeddah. So, I got off the truck in Riyadh and went to the airport to fly to Jeddah ahead of the truck. When I got to Jeddah I found that there were no trucks going to Yemen. So I visited the office of an agent for a shipping line and found that we could ship our ton and a half to Hodeidah for a few hundred dollars (I don’t recall the exact amount). We would then plan to get plane tickets and fly to Sanaa and from there figure out how to get our goods from Hodeidah to Sanaa. Then it occurred to me to go to the ship’s agent and ask if this ship took passengers. He affirmed that we could go first class and eat meals with the Captain for the whole family for about $101. It didn’t take long to agree to this. It turned out that we were the only first class passengers except for one Saudi who was taking his daughter to Yemen for healing in a hot springs that had a healing reputation. Then I asked him how much luggage we could take. He said that the Yemenis take all they have without charge. I said we have a ton and a half. He said, “No problem”. So we were able to move to Yemen from Saudi Arabia by boat carrying all of our goods for about $101. The other challenge was how to connect with the truck driver and get our goods on the boat. I will never know how this happened, but I told the shipping agent about our truck heading this way from Riyadh and somehow our ton and a half ended up on board!
I think we are the only westerners in the history of Yemen who traveled by boat to Yemen to take up residence. We left Jeddah in the evening of 2 July 1972, spent two nights on the ship, and arrived in the morning of 4 July. It happened to coincide with the day of re-establishing diplomatic relations between Yemen and the USA (that were broken in May of 1967 when all Americans were evacuated from Taiz). We sat in the port in the heat of the summer for most of the day while the boat was being unloaded. I was amazed that our two boys did not complain, but just sat there with sweat running down their faces. We could only find some bitter lemon for them (which Kevin would not drink), since the water was not safe to drink. Once our cargo was off the ship and we were free to go, we arranged for two pickup trucks to take our goods up the mountains to the 7200 feet (2200 meters) altitude of the capital city, Sanaa. We stayed in a hotel that night with no air conditioning. We happily arrived at the school in the cool early evening of 5 July. As one of the pickup trucks stopped at the school (where we unloaded the cargo), its motor gave up. The timing was in our favor!
I also recall that on that day the school’s well in the back yard was not producing water (it needed to be deepened, which was done by hand in Sanaa in those days). So, we ordered some donkey carts pulling water tanks and carried water in buckets to the roof of the school where the school’s tanks were in order to supply gravitational pressure to supply the water in the building (we were also living in that building then). Once this was done, we discovered that the water had all disappeared from the tanks. A few day ago one of our parents who lived next to the school asked Mark if he could use some of the school’s water to water his garden. Mark complied, but later when the water was finished, this neighbor left the hose open and when we filled up the tank on the roof, it all ran down into the neighbor’s garden! So, we got more donkey carts of water and this time put the water in the upstairs bathtub so we had some water to use before we could find the neighbor and get his hose closed. This was part of our welcome to Sanaa!
The 1972-73 school year opened with 37 students. It was now known that there was in international school in Sanaa and thus personnel with families could be hired for embassies, United Nations, aid organizations, and other businesses that would bring expats to work and live in Sanaa. Since diplomatic relations were re-established on 4 July 1972, the USA lost no time in bringing USAID back to Yemen (after the unhappy departure in 1967). We were pleased to learn that Aldelmo Ruiz was coming as the Director of USAID in Yemen. When we were in Taiz he was head of the USAID water project and his wife, Mary, had been my predecessor in the Yemen-American Cooperative School, the year before I was offered the Principal positon. We were good friends with Al and Mary (and their son, Mike, who was in our 6th grade in this 1972-73 school year).
A few days before school was scheduled to open in the fall of 1972, Mark and I were rushing around to get the building ready for the classrooms. It did not appear that we would have the school ready in time. Al Ruiz viewed our situation and followed up by commandeering all the USAID employees to come to the school on Thursday (weekend day in Yemen) and work to get the building ready for the teachers. We needed to make two small rooms next to each other into one larger classroom. Mark and I did not know how to do this. Al said, “Bring me a sledgehammer”. He took this sledgehammer and hit the wall a few times until the two small rooms became one large room. This is the kind of support we had from Al. During the next few years I spent many evenings in his house discussing the issues we faced in operating the school. His help was invaluable during the three or four years he was head of USAID in Yemen.
The school prospered in these early years. Mark and Jill departed Yemen after the 1972-73 school year, leaving behind a successful school that they pioneered, a feat of which they can be very proud. I recall one day during a school break they were traveling around visiting some places in Yemen, when Mark’s parents showed up in Sanaa. As former Secretary of Transportation under President Johnson, Alan Boyd was met at the airport by officials in the US Embassy and they brought Alan and his wife to the school. Well, Mark and Jill were not there, but we showed them their living quarters which were in the rented school building. The school did not yet have funds to furnish our living places very well. Mark and Jill chose to sleep on mattresses on the floor, rather than spend money to purchase a bed. To this day I do not know what Mark’s parents had to say about this living condition. As I indicated above, Mark and Jill were amazing and selfless in providing an education for our students.
By 1974 it became apparent that we needed to organize the school in some official way. I was approached by the Administrative Officer in the American Embassy, Gary Lee, with the suggestion that SIS should apply to receive grants via the Office of Overseas Schools of the US State Dept. Since this was not a parent controlled school I was thinking that SIS would not be eligible for grants. It turned out that as long as we were non-profit and served US Government children we could receive grants. Just before this we had formulated the school’s Articles of Organization and By-Laws that among other issues, created SIS as a non-profit school (actually a change from no-profit to non-profit) ?. These documents were signed by leading persons in the Sanaa community.
Gary Lee was a strong supporter of SIS, having a daughter, Dana, in the school, and serving on the school’s Advisory Board. On one of my recruiting trips I needed to travel via Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on my way to Europe. The Saudis required cholera shots in order to pass thru their airport. However, a person was more likely to get cholera from the inoculation than from exposure. So I took my yellow shot record card to Gary and he put in the cholera inoculation information along with the US Embassy stamp. And then he signed it “Dr Donald Duck”. This was Gary Lee! He transferred from Yemen to the US Embassy in Iran just in time to be taken among the 52 hostages that spent 444 days under guard in the US Embassy in Tehran. He was mistreated badly. He passed away of colon cancer in 2010. He will always be remembered as one of the early supporters of SIS in the American Embassy.
Another strong supporter over the years among US Diplomats was David Newton. He was the DCM in the American Embassy in Sanaa from 1973 to 1975 and returned later in the fall of 1994 to be the Ambassador in Sanaa until December of 1997. He was also the Economic Officer in the American Embassy in Sanaa in 1966-67. He had two children (Mark and Lesley) in the school in 1973 to 1975 and was very supportive of the school along with his wife, Christa. He helped the school in many ways in his time in Yemen. Along with Aldelmo Ruiz, David is a signatory on the Articles of Organization and By-Laws for Sanaa International School.
Duane Root and I roomed together for a time when we were students at Seattle Pacific College. We were close friends that resulted in introducing him to Margery’s twin sister, Margaret, so we became brothers-in-law! Duane’s career in education led to years as a high school band director in Idaho (one of the best in the state) followed by being appointed as Superintendent of Schools in the Marsing School District in Idaho. Margery and I were delighted when Duane opted to join us in Yemen and take the Director of Instruction position for two years (1979-81). After returning to the USA he again came back to Yemen to take the same position for three more years (1985-88). Having come to the conclusion that the best satisfaction he had in his career was overseas in Yemen, he again returned in 1990 and stayed until 1994 after which he transferred to take the Director position of our school in Kiev, Ukraine for three years (1994-97). Duane has played a vital role, not only in our school in Yemen, but in co-founding Quality Schools International with me in the fall of 1991. Much of what we developed in Yemen as well as in other QSI schools has been influenced by Duane. In particular we worked together in the 1986-87 school year in creating the Exit Outcomes for QSI that led to the curriculum development for our QSI schools. Having this model of education and curriculum to implement in the establishing of new QSI schools has been a major factor in the success of QSI worldwide. Duane has played a major role in the development of QSI and today is Vice-President of QSI and Chairman of the QSI Board of Directors. With Margaret he also has set up an organization in Idaho (Quality Schools Services) to order and transport textbooks and school supplies for our QSI schools. This is a very cost saving operation by having this service centralized.
In the 44 years of the school’s existence in Sanaa, there have been only four Directors as follows:
1. Jim Gilson (1971-2002), 31 years (including the first year while in Saudi Arabia and two during sabbatical years, 1982-83 & 1985-86)
2. Gordon Blackie (2002-2010), 8 years
3. Martin Avelsgaard (2010-2011), 1 year
4. Phil Weirich (2011-2015) 4 years
Coming from the UK Gordon and Joy Blackie first joined SIS for two years as teachers (1989-91). Then they were transferred to Aden where Gordon was the pioneering Director of Aden International School (1991-93). After two years he then transferred to Minsk, Belarus and Kiev, Ukraine where he was Director in Minsk for a few weeks before moving to Kiev as Director where he was needed due to an unexpected opening in Kiev (1993-94). After this he spent two years as the pioneering Director of Baku International School in Azerbaijan (1994-96). Then after a sabbatical year he returned to take the Director of Instruction position for four years in Almaty International School in Kazakhstan (1997-2001). He then returned to Sanaa as the Director of Instruction of Sanaa International School for a year (2001-02) followed by taking the Director position from 2002 to 2010. His wife Joy worked in all these schools as an effective teacher. Gordon and Joy have a positive influential place in the history of not only SIS, but also in QSI overall. Gordon was instrumental in teaching the QSI model of education in training sessions for other QSI educators. QSI and the school in Yemen are indebted to the work that Gordon and Joy have done over the many years. After leaving QSI Gordon and Joy purchased a boat and sailed for about three years from Florida to Australia (via the Panama Canal). They are adventurers. Today they have a pickup truck and caravan (mobile home), spending the winters in Baja California in Mexico and last summer in Alaska! Attached is a letter that Gordon wrote in response to the bombing.
A major goal of the school is to provide a positive success oriented learning environment for our students. Following is a note recently sent by a former student, Atheer Noman, to Gordon:
Mr. Blackie...I was moved beyond words to this incredible discription of our school. SIS wasn't just an institute of education. It was life in all forms. Learning. Love. Understanding of other cultures and a unity that people from all around the world connected to each other and built memories that will last to our dying breath. Every school year began with my anticipation of who I would meet and where they were from. Every year ended with the knowledge that these people could possibly leave me and I would have to start over again with strangers. But it was an adventure. It was an experience that was unique. Beautiful. And exciting. SIS was life. You truly captured it's essence. Thank you. Thank you all for shaping me into the man I am today. I'm happy. I'm sound, and I'm a reflection of the world because of this enegmatic school and all of you.
Phil Weirich first joined the staff of Sanaa International School in 1991 as a teacher of science and mathematics and continues with QSI today as Deputy Curriculum Coordinator, having moved to QSI Headquarters in Slovenia. He was away from QSI for two years (1997-99) and also took a sabbatical in 2006-07. In 2011 he accepted the Director position of Sanaa International School and persevered under challenging conditions in view of the unrest in Yemen due to Al-Qaida and the “Arab Spring”. With him was Jerry Scott, who joined Sanaa International School in 1988 as a teacher and the next year was promoted to Resource Teacher. Jerry took a sabbatical leave in 2002-03. In the fall of 2009 he became the Resource Coordinator for QSI while continuing to work part-time in Sanaa International School. He was also the QSI Curriculum Coordinator and became full time with QSI in 2012, at which time he also became the QSI Regional Supervisor for Sanaa International School. Phil and Jerry performed tasks under these conditions that few in this world would have the courage or ability to undertake. They stayed in Yemen until it was no longer wise to keep foreign staff present in the country (and had to be coerced to depart!). As noted above the school was closed in the spring of 2015. Their wives, Marie-Jane Weirich and Cathy Scott were key factors in the accomplishments of Phil and Jerry in providing supportive roles and also working in the school.
I cannot end this story of Sanaa International School without emphasizing the importance of the role that Margery has played in being with me in all of the challenges we have faced over the years. She has been quietly supportive and ready to take up whatever position was needed as an elementary teacher, librarian, office manager, and now QSI Executive Secretary. To give an idea of her support, I want to relate how she was thinking about moving to Sanaa in 1972. When we were evacuated from Taiz, Yemen in 1967, we had experienced gunfire over the housing compound of USAID (where we lived) for hours on one night a couple days before being evacuated. We put our one year old son, Marcus, under a bed to protect him. I did not realize how much this affected Margery and her feelings about living in Yemen. When we moved back to Yemen in 1972 she did not say anything about her feelings of again moving to Yemen. Some years later she let me know how fearful she was in view of the experience in Taiz to move back to Yemen again. The fact that she did not say anything at the time indicates how she put aside her own feelings and supported what she realized was a creative move to a new undertaking. Today there would not have been Sanaa International School or QSI had it not been for Margery’s support, who was willing to participate and encourage the various paths that were taken in this adventure!
This gives a short history of Sanaa International School. There are many many other stories that so many others could add to this narrative. It is certain that many who have had a significant part in the development and story of SIS have been left out, not by design, but due to limiting this writing and due to my not remembering many happenings and people over the last 45 years.




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Comments

02/16/2022 - Deirdre
Dear Mr Gilson,
I am so sorry to hear about the school’s bombing. I am so proud to have attended the Sanaa school from my youngest memory. I was in Yemen from 1974-1978. My mother, Nancy was the school secretary. It was a wonderful school and i have so many happy memories from there. Miss Barr’a class and a lovely girl in my class called Zahara. I also had a friend called Triena. I hate that time fades these memories into cloudy glimpses but am thankful to find this article that brings a few things back. Bravo on all the work you have done internationally! My son Max attended the QSI school in Armenia many years ago and loved it too. Best regards to you all.
02/16/2022 - Deirdre
Dear Mr Gilson,
I am so sorry to hear about the school’s bombing. I am so proud to have attended the Sanaa school from my youngest memory. I was in Yemen from 1974-1978. My mother, Nancy was the school secretary. It was a wonderful school and i have so many happy memories from there. Miss Barr’a class and a lovely girl in my class called Zahara. I also had a friend called Triena. I hate that time fades these memories into cloudy glimpses but am thankful to find this article that brings a few things back. Bravo on all the work you have done internationally! My son Max attended the QSI school in Armenia many years ago and loved it too. Best regards to you all.
09/20/2021 - Aidan
So sad to see this pop up on my screen, I attended SIS from 1981-84 and have such incredible memories of my time there. I can still remember my first History lesson with Mrs Snodgrass, sliding down the 'death slide' in the play area and sitting outside eating warm buttered corn that we had grown ourselves whilst another class was tooting away at recorder practise . SIS was my first proper school It is truly saddening to see what has become of it.
I remember doing the earthquake drills when I was there, sadly in the end it seems destruction came not from the ground but from the sky. That all said, no bomb could shake the foundations laid there for generations of children or strip away my happy memories of that place. Aidan (London)
04/22/2021 - Pragya Bhatt
Dear Mr. Gilson,

Thank you for this write up. I attended SIS for a couple of years around 1988(?). My sister and I have fond memories of our time in school. I remember learning macrame in the hall at the entrance of the library as an after school activity. We had Dewy the dog as our class pet. My mother even taught Hindi there after school. I was and remain an avid reader and I have wonderful memories of the Nancy Drew novels I would borrow from the library. For a while as I read your article, I was back there.
01/11/2021 - Rajiv
Dear Mr Gilson,

Thank you very much for your write up on the history of SIS. I joined the school at the age of 7 in 1979, and stayed for 6 years. I have nothing but fond memories of the school.

I have always wished to visit Sana'a again, and to return to the school. As such, I am saddened to hear about the bombing. Hopefully, as things settle down, the school will be rebuilt and others will be able to benefit from the education of and values of SIS, like I once did.

Kind regards.

Rajiv.
07/04/2020 - Patricia
Dear mr Gilson,

Me and my twinsister attended SIS from 1983-1986. The 3 greatest years of our lives. We only have good memories and are still in touch with lots of our schoolmates from that time. So sad what’s happening in Yemen en so sad that the school was bombarded.
06/08/2020 - Charlie
Dear Mr. Gilson,
I am a 1966 Yemen American Cooperative School student of yours. My father, Armando Villegas-“Joe”,
was part of USAID mission built the road from Sana to Mocha. Your accounting of events during that time brought back fond memories. Your story of the shots fired at the American compound where we both lived, AldemoRuiz, and the evacuation of Americans all opened that part of memory that when accessed provides bliss, feelings of love and adventure. I also have a copy of the article you wrote in the school newspaper about a pitching duel between myself and another student, John Hamer, whose father was a big shot.
It is my sincerest wish to reconnect with you and participate in your mission regarding your school in Sana. Hopefully and I pray this comment comes to your attention and stirs your passion to reach out. It’s only been 54 years since we last talked!
Thank you, Carlos Villegas-“Charlie”
11/21/2019 - uak
Thank you to notice me of such an important story. I was a student of SIS during 2008-2011. I had really enjoyed the days in SIS. This air strike is a tragedy for me and all of the students, teachers, staffs and graduates. I wish for Yemen`s peace and SIS`s revival.
10/07/2019 - Mr. Brix
Thank you Jim for this history of SIS. It is sad to see what has become of SIS. I taught there 1980-86 and my 3 children attended. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience. My children gained an appreciation of other cultures and people which would have been nearly impossible on the USA. We all maintain contact with former students and classmates to this day. This is a case where the positives of Facebook far out weighs the negatives for me.
I am also sad for the Yemeni people. They we're kind, hospitable and welcoming. It was a wonderful country and I pray for peace again in Yemen.
08/11/2017 - Ns
SIS was my first school and Sanaa my home as a third culture kid. I just searched today and saw this news. I was in school there on the 74s onward with Mr Gilson as the director. I am sad to see my old school this way.
06/01/2017 - Aayesha Soomro-Irani
Me. Gilson,
SIS was and is one of the largest chunk of memories that I have securely tucked away in my heat. It was more than just a school. It was a place where we came to learn, make friends, love, experience languages, cultures and cuisines from countries all over the globe. It is where we were not just told but taught through leadership that the color of ones skin, the religious beliefs, the languages spoken, the food eaten didn't matter; what mattered most was that we learn to be accepting, tolerant and open minded. That we learn to love people for what they really are, human. It is the only school I ever attended where students and teachers alike shared unshakable bonds of trust, respect and honesty. Where everyone was welcome, no matter what. The friendships we developed in our pre-teen and teenage years live on to this day. This was a school that was our center of learning, morality, play house, arts and crafts center, during Ramadan, Eid, Easter and Christmas our religious compass as well. I stand tall and proud today as a responsible global citizen secure in the knowledge that I am have the emotional strength to persevere through life's biggest challenges thanks to the grounding that SIS provided mE. I remember once forgetting my lunch and having a teacher make me a plate of cheese and khubz so I would not be hungry through the day. I remember countless hours of pure joy spent on the SIS property and climbing the mountain, we were always so safe and secure there. It was the center of our young lives. My heart is heavy even as I write this, what has been destroyed in Sana'a is not just a building or business or school it's a huge piece of history and architectural excellence. I pray that one day peace will return to the region and SIS will shine in all it's glory again.
01/29/2016 - Ted
The news of the bombing of the QSI school in Sanaa is extremely shocking and sad to me. I am just thankful that no one was in the building so there were no casualties.
Bombing of a school is just incomprehensible and absurd. I just hope that future stabilization of Yemen allows rebuilding of this facility.
Thank you Mr. GIlson, Mr. Root and your family members for the detailed history of the school in Sanaa and your dedicated work in creating all the QSI schools.

01/25/2016 - Cindy
The tragedy of the bombing of your school illustrates on a personal level how "strategic strikes" are only strategic in theory. Those on the ground have to watch their life's work destroyed in seconds.

Even more tragic is the loss of life of innocent civilians who often have nothing to do with the conflict at hand. Thankfully, no one from your school community was injured -- we can always be grateful for that. Hopefully, Sanaa IS can be rebuilt because it sounds like it was a very special place.
01/25/2016 - MaryKay
It is with great sadness and awe that I read this article. Mr. Gilson is one of the great pioneers and mavericks in the international school world. As someone who has known Mr. Gilson personally ( I directed three QSI schools) I can paraphrase what the student wrote to Mr. Blackie about the entire organization:

Thank you all for shaping us into the people we are today. We're happy. We;re sound, and we're reflections of the world because of this enigmatic organization and all of you.
01/23/2016 - Melissa
Thank you for sharing the QSI history with us. I hope the school will be rebuilt and all your wonderful work continued soon.


01/21/2016 - Sheri
I have heard various parts of this story from several other long time QSI people, like Kees Reimens. This is really an incredible journey, you must write a book about all the interesting trials and successes you have experienced with all of the QSI schools. I know many of them have unique and interesting beginnings. Thanks for this.
01/21/2016 - mbieri
This is sad news for QSI and for international schools in general. Unbelievable that the school had been targeted. . I hope when things settle down in the region that SIS will find a way to rebuild and open again.

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