Mr Conceicao Souza at the Dubai College, Dubai. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

DUBAI: If there’s one number everyone in Dubai College has on their speed dial, it’s that of Conceicao Sousa.

As head caretaker of the British curriculum secondary school in Al Sufouh, where he has been working for 36 of its 40 years of existence, Sousa is the go-to man for anything anyone needs: from setting up classroom tables and getting the lights fixed to providing logistical support for an event or just finding something that’s missing.

So when the 67-year-old Indian retired from service on June 13, the warm farewell that the school staff and his 15-member team gave him was expectedly nostalgic.

“I feel so blessed,” said Sousa, who has had the privilege of working with all the three bursars of the school since its inception.

“I was hired by Tony Fulger, the first bursar, way back in 1983. There was nothing here then — only desert all around us and the Hard Rock Cafe at a distance,” he said, as he recounted delightful tales from the past.

“My favourite memory is that of an Arab man who would come here in a pickup to steal water from our water tank. One day, I stopped him and asked him why he was doing it. Camel, he replied. It appeared that it was the only word in English that he knew. When I promptly informed the bursar about the exchange, he said to let the man be. Three days later, the Arab returned, this time with a big can filled with camel milk. It was his way of saying thank you.”

Fast forward to 2019 and Sousa, a father of three, said he is proud to have seen the sprawling desert around him transform into a bustling school campus, with 10 buildings over 19 acres of land. And if Dubai College, an outstanding school, also boasts of being one of the cleanest campuses, much of the credit goes to him.

“Our school got the second and third place in cleanliness competitions in 1992 and 1993,” he said, adding that he was personally given the Unsung Hero Award at the Education Journal Middle East Awards in 2017 after being nominated by the school.

Many students, who have graduated and returned to the school as teachers, have fond memories of him. “They tell their children who study here now about all my secrets.”

Conceicao Senior Sports Dinner a 2019 Image Credit: Supplied

In a rare gesture, Debra Turpie, head of alumni relations and communications and marketing, said, “In November this year, we have invited Sousa to be the guest of honour at our annual alumni social event in London. He is very excited to travel from Goa where he is headed after retirement as he can reconnect with 36 years’ worth of ex-colleagues and students. He is particularly looking forward to meeting Fulgar and Graham Penson, a former teacher, now in Australia, whom he considers his best friend.”

Annie Kirkcaldy, the headmaster’s assistant, said, “The school also held a staff vs caretaker cricket match as part of Sousa’s leaving event. It was followed by a social hosted by the headmaster and attended by the majority of the Dubai College staff. We also had a senior sports dinner where he was invited as guest of honour to present the sports colours to our Sixth Form students. He is a true gentleman and we will all miss him.”

Rich tributes

“Conceicao joined Dubai College in 1983 and has worked his way up to being the head of the caretaking team. This title though does not reflect the contribution made by him in keeping the school running smoothly. Nothing is ever too much trouble for him and he regularly identifies issues and solves them before anyone else is aware they even exist. It is a measure of his knowledge and the confidence that people have in him that the standard response when looking to set up an event is ‘Ask Conceceio, he will know what to do’.”

— Kieran Dempsey, Bursar

“Conceicao is the lynch pin of Dubai College. His encyclopedic knowledge of the way Dubai College functions is second to none. Nothing is too much trouble for him and he is able to anticipate all our needs. He has a phenomenal memory and once an event that he has set up has taken place, the next time you just need to mention it and he will reel off to you what needs to be done as if he has read your mind. Events like Music Charity Love, World Food Day, Musical Performances, even exams, would simply not happen so smoothly without him and his team.

— Liz John, Head of Modern Foreign Languages

“Conceicao — I have worked closely with him for 20 years! He would be number one on my speed dial, just ahead of my wife. Dubai College would collapse without this hard working, kind and generous man. Nothing is too much for him. Staff, students and parents alike love him and my own children, (8 and 9 years old), call him the Ice Cream Man.”

— Martin Woolley, Head of Lower School