Sister Caroline devotes life to excellence

Sister Caroline Toma Semaan

Sister Caroline Toma Semaan

Chaldean Nun makes her mark as the principal in the United Arab Emirates 

By Weam Namou

It wasn’t an assignment Sister Caroline Toma Semaan was seeking but the Chaldean nun speaks of her principal position at her private school with great pride.

“We are sisters who run the school but our school is for everybody,” said Sister Caroline. “We have 145 teachers and our student-body is at capacity with both Muslim and Christians students.” 

Born in1943, Sister Caroline entered the convent in Baghdad at the age of 16.  Since 1975, she has been the principal of Sharjah Private School in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

Over the years, this elementary school (K to 6th Grade) has excelled and won numerous awards, including a highly prestigious one for the 2016/2017 year. Its students have won the first place in the international test TIMSS in science and Sister Caroline herself won a $15,000 award from the country for leading a school of excellence. She divided the money among the teachers and staff, three of which are Chaldean nuns including the assistant principal. 

“Our institution seeks to do all it can for the benefit of its students so they can perform their best,” she said. “Therefore, we don’t waste effort or spare money in order to achieve what we aspire for.”

The award winning school opened on December 1, 1974 when Sister Caroline was studying in Chicago. After completing her education, she was requested to go to the UAE, starting immediately as a principal because she had prior experience in Iraq. 

Today, Sharjah Private School is at capacity with 2400 students, 5 percent Chaldeans and the rest Muslims. Bible is taught to Christians and the Koran to Muslims. The Sheik of her state is proud of Sr. Caroline’s work which she credits to devoting her life to two basic things: To pleasing God and worshipping Him to the fullest and to paying attention to her work.

“Perhaps that’s what makes me devote every minute of my life to the success and care of my institution,” she said. “I make my life a daily journey of [good] conscience and satisfaction that I have given to the young people a sound education based on science and moral ethics and that I’ve helped them build their leadership traits so they can be active members in their communities.”

Sister Caroline says that success is not a coincidence. Sometimes, coincidence may play a role in putting a person on the path of success. But if the person does not have the elements of success, which include determination, high motivation, sound thinking, an ability to solve problems and face difficulties, they cannot complete the path of success.

“Success is achieved only with patience, perseverance, dedication, love for the work and faith in the goals that we seek to achieve,” she said.  “What I achieve is never dependent on chance, but is the result of sound planning and continuous follow-up of all large and small details so that things go in a straight line to bring about the desired goals.”  

In achieving the school’s goals, Sister Caroline expects there are risks and challenges involved, but she confronts issues in order to find solutions or minimize the negative effects.  

“My work is my life,” she said. “I have devoted all of my time, both during and outside the working hours, to follow up all that is necessary for my educational institution so it goes through the path of success and excellence.”

Many say that Sister Caroline’s secret to success is her smile. What makes her smile so radiant?

“When a person is full and his heart is satisfied, he is always happy with goodness, his face is full of love,” she said. “The smile is the most beautiful greeting to meet people with. I really love everyone, I wish them well, and I’m happier when I offer them help that will satisfy them and ease their life.” 

For that reason, she is always trying to find the balance between a firm and soft management. 

“I have a strong relationship with everyone I work with,” she said. “They are my soldiers who help achieve our ambitions. I appreciate the role of all and the importance of what they do.”

However big or small, Sister Caroline doesn’t take anyone’s work for granted including the custodians’ duties, appreciating the significant impact cleanliness has on the work environment of the students and the staff. 

“I try to get close to everyone and listen to them, consult with them, and identify their problems and needs in order to help them,” she said. “Maybe they’re then able to do their work with a clear mind and satisfied self.”

Although she admits that maintaining this type of relationship is not easy, she does it because as a leader it’s important to follow up, motivate, reward and show accountability. 

“It is the responsibility of the school leadership to make known to the employees the vision of the institution and have them work according to its principles and objectives,” she said. “Rewarding distinguished persons is also important because it motives them and also their colleagues may want to follow in their footsteps.”

While she hopes to retire in the near future, for now, she will continue to provide the best education for her students. 

“Our real profit is the distinguished persons who graduated from our school and now occupy the highest positions, both inside the country and in their own country.”

She feels the utmost happiness when students who graduated from the Sharjah Private School visit her and tell her they will never forget the role the school played in positively shaping the course of their lives.