In the northeast corner of Nigeria, in a state known as Borno, lies the village of Chibok. It’s a poor village with minimal access to things we take for granted daily — things like water and electricity. But, despite its many disadvantages, this village has always had one particularly important asset: a school.
Chibok is home to the district’s only secondary school, and even as far back as 1970, it has been fighting for the right to keep that school and educate its children. The events of 14 April 2014 have served to underline the village’s belief in education, and the aftermath demonstrates their impressive, continuing fight for the right to receive knowledge.
For years prior to this fateful day, Boko Haram, a terrorist organization whose name loosely translates to “Western Education is Forbidden”, had been committing atrocities in Borno. They had attacked police officers, burned down churches, and detonated roadside bombs. They were greatly feared. Still, many families in Chibok decided to educate their daughters, knowing full well the risk that decision presented. They bravely sent them to school, hoping the security guards would be enough to protect them. Sadly, they weren’t.
On the evening of 14 April 2014, the unarmed security guard at Chibok’s secondary school saw militants from Boko Haram approaching and fled. The school was sieged and 276 girls were kidnapped. Chibok – and soon the world – watched, horrified, as Boko Haram pledged to force these young women into marriages against their will. A campaign which attracted global attention was launched to “Bring Back Our Girls”.
Over a year later, we all watched in utter horror when 234 of the 214 girls were returned visibly pregnant. It is believed likely that the other 42 girls are now dead.
More fortunately, over 50 of the girls who were kidnapped, escaped. They roamed for miles in oppressive heat, sleeping in the bush to avoid night-time raids by their oppressors, finally managing to make their way back to Chibok. Despite threats by Boko Harem to slaughter their families, 21 of those girls made the astonishingly brave decision to return to school. The sister of one of the kidnapped girls went from village to village, recruiting the young girls who escaped, and offering them scholarships to attend the American University of Nigeria (ANUF).
AUNF is standing up for both Nigeria’s future and for an enlightened, tolerant world that refuses to accept any child is too remote or poor to be denied the precious gift of knowledge.
In the midst of unimaginable pain and fear, the village of Chibok found the hope and the strength necessary to stand in defiance. As they have done since 1970, they are continuing to fight for knowledge and education.
Boko Haram has a long history of kidnapping women and girls — a history that extends far beyond the tragic events of April 2014. Some change has occurred this time around. The horrific rapes suffered on this kidnapping have prompted organisations to correct a misinterpretation of the Helms Amendment, which until now, has meant that the US cannot provide these women with abortion care. There is pressure to re-draft the amendment which would at least allow funds to be used for abortion when the person has suffered rape, incest or threats to life.
But the psychological trauma these women and girls have suffered will go untreated. The brave move to return to education is a testimony to all those affected by the terrible events, a testimony which promises Chibok’s civilians will continue their fight for a better future.
If you’d like to support the efforts being made to help the escaped girls – and others who suffered from the insurgency – with continuing education, please visit ANUF.
References include The Guardian, The American University of Nigeria Foundation and Feminist.org.
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