AlumnaeMar 8, 2020

Waheeda Shariff Samji ’91 began building her own school in 2011

Aiming to make a more direct impact, Waheeda Shariff Samji ’91, founded The Latham School, a community of learners in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

On International Women's Day 2020, one of our favorite days of the year, we are excited to launch a mini-series championing Miss Hall’s alumnae making a difference in the world.

Today, the spotlight is on Waheeda Shariff Samji ’91, founder of The Latham School, a community of learners in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Following graduation from Miss Hall’s, and then from McGill University with a degree in economics, Waheeda began her career at the Aga Khan Foundation, advocating for poor and marginalized communities. She worked on poverty reduction at UKAID, the principle foreign aid agency of the United Kingdom, before being named Chairperson of the Aga Khan Education Services — the youngest person and the first woman to hold that position.

Waheeda began building her own school in 2011, aiming to make a more direct impact. The rapidly growing Latham School has become an education hub that inspires creativity, innovation, and perseverance in students and adults. Like MHS, Latham is a learning community in which respect, honesty, compassion, courtesy, and kindness are the core of every lesson and activity.

A true "global citizen, a self-aware, resilient, and courageous participant in a multicultural society," Waheeda is a portrait of The MHS Graduate as laid out in our Strategic Design.

“I am proud of having stood up for the things that I believe in, and for being able to take ideas, develop them, and make them happen. The time I spent at MHS has certainly played a part in giving me the confidence to be able to do this, and to do it well.” — Waheeda Shariff Samji ’91

Q & A with Waheeda

How did you get interested in economics/education/advocacy
After graduation, I was quite sure that I wanted to do something in development and was lucky enough to find a job with the Aga Khan Foundation, although I started there as a receptionist, working my way up! I only got into education because as my children were growing up, I felt that the school options available to them in Dar es Salaam were fairly limited, and I wanted to be able to give them an education more suited to their learning styles.

What are you most proud of the difference you have been able to make in the world?
I am proud of having stood up for the things I believe in and for being able to take ideas, develop them, and make them happen. The time I spent at MHS certainly played a part in giving me the confidence to be able to do this and to do it well.

What are some of the things from your time at MHS that stand out for you?
The things I remember at MHS were Mr. Dugan’s AP American History class (where we would watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" every December), and Mr. Kildahl’s AP English class (where I first learned Carpe Diem!). I still have my MHS ring, which my daughter has asked me for.

How did you end up attending MHS?
I ended up at MHS as my parents were keen for me to have a transition between high school and university that would give me an introduction to life in North America. At the time, we took some advice from our principal’s wife, who was familiar with boarding schools in the Northeast, and MHS happened to be on the short list. Because I was given a scholarship, I ended up at MHS instead of St. Tim’s!

I know that you have two teenage children. How has your career affected your family life?
I was working at DFID (Department for International Development) when I had Aryan (my son, 18), and I became a consultant soon after he was born to allow me some flexibility in working hours when he was very young. As a consultant, I was able to choose which assignments to take and what hours to work, although there was a fair bit of travel involved. My husband is also a very hands-on father, and between us, we have managed to work out a balance for the kids.

How have you been able to achieve work/life balance?
I love to read and have always made time to read what I enjoy. I am usually reading 2 or 3 books at a time, depending on the mood. Most of what I read tends to be nonfiction.

If there is one thing, you’d like to say to today’s students at MHS, what would it be?
For today’s students at MHS, I would tell them to learn to fight the battles that matter. In an increasingly polarized world, it is easy to get caught up in the many trends/movements that go viral without really understanding the underlying issues. It’s important for young people of today to delve a little deeper, be informed, and then take a stand on issues that they believe in and can defend from an educated point of view. It is neither necessary nor possible to fight all the battles.