Purposely wanting to make a difference in her community with a passion towards lifting others up and a profound connection with animals, a freshman student took the step to establish an organization that solely focuses on animal rights in Egypt. Now a Senior at The American University in Cairo with a Construction Engineering major and a minor in Community Development, co-founder of the Animal Rights Association (ARA) Zenah Helmy talks to us about how the student initiative that emerged from a university-oriented organization to one with active involvement across Egypt.
Why and how did you start ARA?
Since I was a child, I’ve always dreamt to start an organization devoted to helping animals in need. I realized that we live in a society where animals’ basic rights are often neglected and not taken into consideration, either due to lack of awareness or laws against animal cruelty in the country. Accordingly, cases that incorporate burying and drowning animals alive, beating them up, poisoning them, and shooting them remain unnoticed. Fortunately I became aware that several other students at the AUC were fighting for the same cause like Farah AlSherbiny, who also wanted to devote a club for helping animals in need.
How was the community’s reaction to your initiative?
I was a first year student when I worked on initiating ARA. Of course, many people did not take the initiative seriously. They thought it would be impossible for a first year student to initiate an organization. However, I did not let any of this demotivate me. or ARA’s team. Yet, I cannot deny that several other persons were supporting and welcoming to the idea.
Can you tell us more about ARA’s projects?
ARA has several projects: Giza Zoo, Marine Life, Animals (including sheltered animals, cats and dogs on campus, working animals, and stray animals), and awareness sessions. In our Giza Zoo Project, we aim to enrich the zoo and aid in the Educational Program for helping in the rehabilitation of young animals. This is done in collaboration with the Giza Zoological Education Center, Veterinary Association for Continuing Education and Love by N. In our Marine Life Project, we aim to conserve marine life through various activities such as beach clean ups. In our Animal Projects, we visit shelters, offer them financial and physical help, and ensure enhancing the living conditions of all animals.
What’s the most challenging aspect of working on animal rights in Egypt?
The most challenging aspect of working on animal rights in Egypt is that it is always perceived as a luxury and is also always criticized. In addition, there is never enough manpower to help in projects. This is due to the fact that those who are interested in our cause are still not yet a majority in the community.
“We don’t even have basic human rights, to ask for animal rights in Egypt,” How do you respond to similar remarks and what would you say to the people who think animal rights are a luxury in general?
Giving to an animal does not mean giving less to a human, neither does it take away from a human. ARA exists to spread compassion and –most importantly– mercy. We are not asking for people to love animals but at least not to hurt them. It is also guaranteed that an animal lover (including the ARA crew) would do anything to help a human in need, because we always have a vision of planting the seeds of mercy in everyone’s soul.
Are you currently on the organization’s advisory board? What’s your role in the organization now?
I am currently ARA’s Advisor. I always try my best to give full support to ARA’s new board. Even after I graduate, I will continue doing the same. I really consider ARA my child that I will always be taking care of, and will always be eager to see it grow, sustain, and develop.
What are your future ambitions for yourself and for ARA?
I really want ARA to expand outside of the AUC boundaries in other universities. This would then enable me to initiate ARA Egypt –an NGO– which will be connected to all ARA branches in different universities. As for myself, I really wish to incorporate what I learnt academically into what I love doing.