Nige­ria girls who fled from Boko Haram look for­ward to brighter fu­ture

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY BEN SIMON

A typ­i­cal day for Deb­o­rah in­cludes classes on a man­i­cured uni­ver­sity cam­pus and ex­er­cise in the evening — bas­ket­ball, vol­ley­ball or aer­o­bics. On week­ends, she stud­ies, swims or just re­laxes. But the teenager’s life now is one that was unimag­in­able 12 months ago.

On April 14 last year, she was in a packed dor­mi­tory at the Gov­ern­ment Girls Sec­ondary School in Chi­bok, north­east­ern Nige­ria, seek­ing a night’s sleep be­fore writ­ing end-of-term ex­ams. Boko Haram fighters stormed the school af­ter sun­down, kid­nap­ping 276 girls.

Deb­o­rah was one of 57 girls who es­caped within hours of the attack. Her life has changed but for the other 219 hostages still be­ing held and for fam­i­lies des­per­ate for news, the night­mare con­tin­ues.

‘Bless­ing in dis­guise’

Deb­o­rah and 20 other girls from Chi­bok who es­caped Boko Haram cap­tiv­ity are now study­ing at the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity of Nige­ria (AUN) in the north­east­ern city of Yola. Spread across a vast stretch of land on the out­skirts of Yola, the cam­pus in­cludes an im­mac­u­late ho­tel, with a restau­rant over­look­ing a pool that serves burg­ers and pizza, where fac­ulty, in­clud­ing vis­it­ing West­ern pro­fes­sors, share so­das with their stu­dents. “It is a beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment,” Deb­o­rah told AFP via uni­ver­sity staff in an email ex­change.

The Chi­bok girls at AUN are study­ing a cur­ricu­lum aimed at pre­par­ing them to start a four-year un­der­grad­u­ate pro­gram next year.

Deb­o­rah said her dream is to work at the United Na­tions “to help my com­mu­nity in Chi­bok, Nige­ria and the world.” Oth­ers talk of be­com­ing doc­tors or lawyers. All stress the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion.

Thoughts of their miss­ing class­mates are never far away and in their prayers daily, they said.

They also ac­knowl­edged they would al­most cer­tainly not be study­ing at the uni­ver­sity had they not been kid­napped. Mary put this con­flict in starker terms: “When the in­sur­gency struck, I was dev­as­tated but lit­tle did I know it was go­ing to be a bless­ing in dis­guise.”

The Chi­bok girls at AUN felt united in a com­mon goal to en­sure that some good must come from last year’s tragedy. “It has been a hor­ri­ble jour­ney yet we be­lieve that com­ing to AUN is for a pur­pose, which is to be an in­stru­ment of pos­i­tive change in our home­town,” Sarah said. “We have not been bro­ken by the attack. We see our­selves as the peo­ple who have been cho­sen to make pos­i­tive fu­ture changes not just in Chi­bok, but in our coun­try and the world,” she added.

But the girls study­ing at AUN sug­gested the Is­lamist foot-sol­diers who car­ried out the kid­nap­pings ul­ti­mately de­serve mercy. North­east­ern Nige­ria pro­vides few op­por­tu­ni­ties and lit­tle hope of em­ploy­ment for young men, mak­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to rad­i­cal­iza­tion, they said.

“I for­give Boko Haram for what they have done and I pray God for­gives them too,” Bless­ing said.

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