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Remembering school namesake and advocate for Arabic languages and cultures

Wed, 3 May, 2023

News item: Remembering school namesake and advocate for Arabic languages and cultures (Soraya Hafez)

In May 2018, the Board announced the new K-6 school in the McConachie neighbourhood would be named after teacher and community volunteer Soraya Hafez. The former educator, who spent most of her life in service to others, passed away on April 27 at the age of 86.

“She left a tremendous legacy of learning, not just at Glengarry School, where she taught, but across our city through the many lives she influenced as a teacher, advocate and community volunteer,” Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks said at the May 2 Board meeting. “Our thoughts are with her family and all who knew Ms. Hafez.” 

Dedication to education

Originally from Egypt, Soraya Hafez earned two Bachelor of Education degrees—one from Ain Shams University in Cairo, the other from the University of Alberta.

She worked for several years as a teacher in Lac La Biche before moving back to Edmonton to teach in an Arabic bilingual program that started in the basement of the Al Rashid Mosque.

She was the first to teach the Arabic program once it was introduced at Glengarry School in 1983, and as a curriculum writer, she established the basis of what is taught in our schools today. The Arabic Bilingual program is now offered at seven Division schools. 

She was also an Arabic language instructor at the University of Alberta.

Celebrating and preserving Edmonton’s Muslim heritage

Hafez served as president of the Edmonton chapter of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and an active member of the Arab Jewish Women’s Peace Coalition. She also supported—and performed in—the University of Alberta’s Middle Eastern and North African Music Ensemble.

Together with her husband, Richard Awid (also an Edmonton Public Schools teacher), she worked to improve the community, and helped raise funds to restore the Al Rashid Mosque and move it to Fort Edmonton Park as a permanent historic landmark in 1992.

Hafez was honoured in 2009 with a Women Who Inspire Award from the Canadian Council for Muslim Women for her community service and leadership. In 2015, Hafez and her husband were honoured with the Salvos Prelorentzos Peace Award for their work promoting Arabic language and culture, and for their community involvement.

Becoming a school namesake

Hafez was in long-term care when she was announced as a namesake. At the time of the announcement, Awid said: “If Soraya had her chance to speak to the students, she would say, ‘Never give up. Always work towards achieving something.’ I think my wife, if she could be here today, she would be extremely happy. I know she would be so proud of what she accomplished.”

Learn more about Soraya Hafez in our school namesake video.