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