Muscat: “I was actually born in a refugee camp in France, where I stayed for 10 years, and I remember it so vividly,” were Nadia Megnin’s first words to the Times of Oman.
Megnin currently serves as the head of the Senior School at British School Muscat, having been at the school for the last 17 years, and while she has worked hard and persevered to reach such a respectable position, she has never, nor will she, ever take anything for granted.
“My father was in the French army, so when Algeria became independent, it made his position quite difficult, so they had to leave in the middle of the night,” she recalled. “They just had to flee the country, with just a bag of his basic belongings, because of his association with the French military.”
Megnin recalled her parents’ dangerous journey on a boat headed to Marseille in the south of France, where they were assigned to a refugee camp near Perpignan, before then being relocated to Camp de Bias in south-west France. It was here where Megnin would spend her formative years.
“They had a child in that camp, who died, but then before they fled Algeria my mother lost another child, so that was quite tough,” recalled Megnin.
“When they moved to south-west France, and she had me, my mother was quite unwell because she was anorexic and my father had contracted tuberculosis, so I had to go into a foster home and was looked after by other people.”
“That was very, very difficult and very hard and very challenging for a young child,” she revealed. “Life in the foster home was very hard, but you move on. My mother was in one hospital, my father was in another hospital; I was in a foster home, though my dad would come to see me regularly, but it’s not the same as having a parent around.”
Nadia still remembers the squalid, dangerous conditions her family had to endure in the camp.
“In the camp, we didn’t have washing facilities, but a communal washing area,” she revealed.
“I remember once when my mother was washing clothes by hand early in the morning. I remember that so well, I was about five years old, watching my mother washing clothes; she was a very strong, determined woman, but I knew then that my life was going to be different. As a child, you can’t really articulate that feeling and why you want things to be different, but I knew then it was going to be so.”
“Sometimes, there was school, and sometimes there wasn’t,” explained Megnin. “There were often riots, since people were not happy with their situation in the camp, so we then had the riot police come in, we had to lock ourselves in our house, if you could call it that: it was essentially four walls and a corrugated tin roof. It was like a shantytown, if you like.”
A small group of families were selected to move away as part of a government reintegration programme. Megnin’s mother had decided that the family had to make a better life for ourselves.
“My parents had seven children, and each of us went to university,” said Nadia. “I remember there being nights when we didn’t have enough to eat, but going to university was non-negotiable in our family. My mother decided that girls had to be independent, and they had to be educated.”
“No matter what I do, I have to strive for excellence, and that is why the job that I do here at British School Muscat, one of the leading British International Schools, is very important to me,” she added. “It has given me a platform to take things to a much higher level, and that is why we wholeheartedly believe in our High Performance Learning programme, wherein we don’t cap our students’ learning potential. We believe that every child is able to achieve great things.”
“I am a product of that, and so I believe in that. When we were inspected in February 2017, the school was judged to be outstanding with exemplary results. 99 per cent of our students received the 5 A* C grade (including English and Maths), and when you consider that we are not as selective as some of the other schools, that is an excellent achievement because we strive for excellence and because I insist that every child is given the opportunity to expand their abilities further.”
“Education is so important because it is my passport to freedom that has allowed me to go places,” admitted Megnin. “This is why I don’t believe it when teachers say, ‘This child cannot do it.’ If you work hard and strive for excellence, and you have ambitions, then you will succeed.”