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Layla Safi '25, Bridge-Builder

Upper School student Layla Safi stands by an outdoor climbing structure

As Layla Safi, a first-year student in the Upper School, listened to the news about the refugee crisis in Afghanistan, she wanted to find a way to help. 

That desire resulted in her organizing a multi-week supply drive last fall to benefit refugees who fled Afghanistan and resettled in the Triangle. “Even though I am a first-year student in high school and kind of early to organize something like this, I wanted to be someone who helps welcome those coming to our area and do what I can to help make them be more comfortable,” she says.

Layla sent emails to the Upper School community, writing, “We live in a world where millions of people are having to leave their homes. We have a responsibility to take care of each other, and here at Carolina Friends School, we have had a long-standing relationship with the people of Afghanistan. And now many of them have become refugees and are arriving in our community. So we’re working with the Carolina Peace Center to raise some urgently needed items for the Afghan refugees. Every week we will share the items that we will be focusing on during that week."

The successful drive collected a range of items—including toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, shampoo, menstrual products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and dish soap—that were donated to the Carolina Peace Center. “When we started the drive, I had very humble expectations of how much we would collect,” says Layla. “It was so motivating to see the collection table overflowing with bags and bags of donations.”

At Carolina Friends, we study many issues about justice and how to build a better world. I am learning that it is equally important to me to do something good, even if it is on a small scale, to bring those changes into existence.

She collaborated with staff members and the student-led club Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) to publicize the drive collecting donations from the Carolina Friends School community. Layla says that students told her that the drive and her work on it inspired them to help others in need.  

In turn, Layla was inspired both by her dad—Omid Safi, professor in Duke University’s Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies—and by Carolina Friends. “I have observed (my dad) organizing whatever he can to do whatever is right, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps and make my own contribution,” she says. “My dad and I are quite close, and we constantly worked together on the Afghan Refugee Drive.”

She noted her connection to those who come from Middle Eastern and Muslim backgrounds. “My dad was raised in Iran and moved to America at 14,” Layla says. “Most of my family on his side also lived in Iran and immigrated to the US. This was a big part of why we decided to organize the Afghan Refugee Drive.”

Layla says that Carolina Friends has been a big part of giving her the courage to organize this drive, adding that she was inspired by the School’s global sister school partnership and curriculum on the culture of Afghanistan. “At Carolina Friends, we study many issues about justice and how to build a better world,” she says. “I am learning that it is equally important to me to do something good, even if it is on a small scale, to bring those changes into existence.”

“Layla's initiative is inspirational,” says Lauren Brownlee, Head of the Upper School. “She saw a way that the Carolina Friends School community could make a difference, and then motivated us to rise to the occasion.”

Profile written by Michele Lynn.

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