Hana El Safoury is not what she seems. In campbell plaid, with her almost imperceptibly accented English and joyful, subtly impish smile, you would never imagine the journey that led her to Annie Wright from her native Egypt 18 months ago.
Those who know her at all know her strong convictions. She is first and foremost a fierce advocate for animal rights. She also cares deeply about social justice, community service, intercultural understanding and her relationship with God. She offers free Arabic lessons to students and faculty after school, writes a Blog about dorm life to help prospective applicants, serves as a Prefect, and has applied to colleges around the world.
But back to her journey. Though it was a time of political upheaval in Egypt, it was her passion for animal rights that sparked her desire to change her life. This passion started with a YouTube video of US animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky giving a speech about the 12 THE MAGAZINE OF ANNIE WRIGHT SCHOOLS | WINTER 2014 human exploitation of animals. The day she watched it - February 5, 2011 - she became a vegan. She went on to read the 1975 book Animal Liberation, by Australian philosopher Peter Singer, which popularized the term speciesism to refer to discrimination against animals.
Hana was studying at an international IB School and channeled her passion into her Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) project, a fundamental part of the Diploma Programme. She proposed a project, Aid Giza Zoo, to support the dilapidated zoo in cleaning, awareness and enrichment activities to the public. The proposal was at first denied, but Hana persisted, and gradually built a volunteer program. The zoo further declined, however, during the tumultuous rule and subsequent overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi. Animals were neglected, and several died.
Hana was heartsick about the animals and also tired of the political violence, curfews and constraints that had limited her everyday life for some time. “I like going out and being involved,” she said. “Life became home-school, school-home.” After the joy of the Arab spring and the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak, factions emerged and mass protests and insurgencies became the norm. “Every single gathering was about politics,” she said. “I felt suffocated and wanted to grow.”
Hana’s elder sister was studying at Johns Hopkins University, and Hana decided she wanted to move to the US as well. She searched the Internet for a strong IB school with rolling admissions and financial aid and told her parents, both physicians, about her plan to attend Annie Wright only after she was accepted. “I walked my parents through my dream,” she said. She can be quite convincing.
She has immersed herself in academic, co-curricular and residential life at Annie Wright and volunteers at the local humane society and animal shelter. At the same time, she stays grounded in her culture and religion, speaking and teaching Arabic when she can, practicing her Islamic religion by praying five times a day, and helping dispel myths about Islam with anyone who is open to dialogue.
One of Hana’s main goals is to return to Egypt to effect change. “I want to shut down the zoos and build virtual safaris and an educational center about the human relationship to animals,” she said.
Hana plans to study everything it takes to become a strong social leader, including public policy, politics, world cultures, technology and business. “If you want to make a change, you need to affect the policy,” she said. Watch this space.