As the community of the World Forum we gather with friends, colleagues, and family around the world to grieve the passing of our dear friend and colleague Rana Ismail on September 7, 2022. The stories we now share celebrate her life and highlight her impact on each of us. So recently, Rana gifted us several precious days in Orlando for 2022 World Forum, where she presented her work and her story, nurtured friendships, inspired and challenged us. As her friend and colleague May Ajram, says: “I know for a fact that the World Forum made her happy — and this is, by itself, HUGE.”
Rana’s daughter joined her in Orlando:
“It was a great pleasure, but more like some of the best moments of my life, to get to be with my mama in Orlando. She has spoken to me a lot about the World Forum family a long time ago, but it was the first time that I got to participate in the great event. I am so so grateful that I got to see my mama in action, presenting and leading discussions. I will forever cherish those memories.”
As she shared in her plenary presentation at the 2022 World Forum, Rana trained and worked as an engineer before she found her passion for young children:
“I graduated as an engineer from the American University of Beirut and I worked as an engineer for several years. At that time, I developed my passion for children, especially the disadvantaged, due to the several wars in Lebanon. I volunteered to work in an orphanage to organize and implement recreational activities that would foster and develop the socio-emotional skills of the children. I realized that engineering is not what I want to do in my life. It’s serving children and providing better opportunities is what I want. And I thought that the children are precious enough, so if I want to work with children, it should be based on science, not just on passion or good will. So I decided to go back to the university and studied special education with a focus on the early years and then educational leadership.”
Rana believed in the power of relationships:
“At the same time I had an opportunity to join a capacity building program to introduce the holistic, integrated approach, and the rights based approach to our early education system in our schools. It was organized by ARC, the Arab Resource Collective, a regional NGO. And here comes the role of relationships. My relationship with ARC made them choose me to be part of the 2008-2009 cohort of Global Leaders for Young Children. And that paved the way for me to go to the World Forum in Kuala Lumpur, and there started an adventure, a real adventure. I was astonished with everything — with the spirit, with the people surrounding me, with the differences — the differences in everything, in experiences, in programs, in countries, in backgrounds, in colors, in everything.”
Rana lived with hope and spirit:
“This experience and exposure, I call experiential learning, left a permanent effect. I came back with change in programs and curricula, and, at the same time, a change in spirit. I thought that maintaining a high and positive spirit should be the catalyst that made me and my colleagues continue when things got so hard and challenging and difficult in our country. So all through we try to maintain this positive spirit.”
Rana loved her school and the teachers, children and families:
“My school is Al-kawthar Secondary School, now with 2100 students from early years to secondary, 268 special needs students, 400 orphans with diversity in socio-economic status in the school. This school, where I work now, is a very special school to me because it was the first inclusive school in the whole of Lebanon. And still one of the most important, thanks to God. The love we have for the children, the teachers, the teams, the staff, the spirit we try to maintain, the strong relationships among us, urge us, all the time, though we face so many difficulties, to continue to try to improve the practices with the children. And to introduce change to the best of their interest.”
“I do my daily round of my school, I like to call it “learning walk.” The school is very big, four big buildings, and I try to go around each day. I look at the eyes of each child. If the eyes are happy, focused, excited, I say we are a good school. If I don’t see that, I worry. I hope that one day we will look at the eyes of each child and we will see in his or her eyes that each child is happy, excited, and focused.”
Thank you, Dear Rana, for all you gave to us. You live in our hearts.
The Department of Education at the American University of Beirut:
Rana Ismail has been a change leader who worked tirelessly to make bold ideas a reality in order to create a more equitable and effective educational system. As the school principal of Al Kawthar school and the deputy director for Education affairs at the Mabarrat association, she was one of the few pioneers who were able to leave a distinctive mark on the educational sector in Lebanon at the strategic and practical levels. In twenty-five years, Rana led the establishment of an educational institution that embodies best educational practices dedicated to providing excellence in service to every child regardless of their socioeconomic background and their learning abilities. With that, she demonstrated how education can be a vehicle of social
transformation by being responsive both to the needs of every student and the challenges of the century. She succeeded to show her fellow educators how it is possible to implement inclusive education, continuous professional development, participative management, institutional leadership capacity and effectiveness and partnership with the school’s broader community.
Achievements that remain elusive to most of our educational institutions that boast about the quality education they offer.
As part of her strive for excellence, Rana joined the TAMAM project since its inception and contributed greatly as a practitioner to its research-based designs making Al Kawthar one of the schools that have materialized the project vision for a self-renewing community school contributing as part of a network of change agents to improving education in the Arab region. Rana also left her impact beyond the institution and community that she dedicated her life to serve, through her generous volunteering with refugees and marginalized communities all around the Arab region affirming through her actions that education is indeed a human right for all. Rana Ismail defeated time with her tireless determination what she achieved in one lifetime fills many. She never got tired crossing distances and making achievements with great speed and with a pace that made the measure of living the size of giving.”
This is really sad news to the world forum family! Her passion for children shall forever live with us. I had a chance to meet her and present closely with her while in Italy and other world forum meetings. We are forever grateful for your contribution and the light shall continue to shine. You have planted many seeds and we shall continue to water them to grow to yield fruits. Rest in Peace.
God bless your work