3 Months Still Missing – Chibok, Nigeria
From the desk of Founder Erica Greve:
For the past few months, I have been working with girls who escaped the Chibok kidnapping along with 21 of the mothers who are still awaiting the return of their daughters. The mothers and the escapees were moved from Chibok to Lagos to receive medical care, and the anti-human trafficking organization I run, Unlikely Heroes, was asked to send a team to provide the grief counseling, trauma therapy and support services they desperately needed to help them cope with their ordeal.
Within hours of their arrival, I began counseling them. The mothers wept and wept as they described their grief. Being in that room, a witness to the pain that these 21 mothers were feeling – mothers who had not held their precious daughters in their arms for more than 50 days – was excruciating to observe. They began to tell me how they’d not slept or eaten since their daughters were taken, how they would faint suddenly – a few had even been taken to hospital for shock. One of the mothers had two of her girls stolen. Another, they explained, had passed away in Chibok from grief.
After I worked with the mothers, I began to counsel the escaped girls. The girls recounted every moment with incredible detail. Being the first person that 2 of the girls had even shared their experience with, I braced myself to hear their horror stories. The first escaped girl came into my improvised counseling office. It was hot and humid in the room; yet once she began sharing her story I ignored the perspiration pouring off us.
Fifteen-year-old Precious explained that the girls were staying at their boarding school to sit for their final exams. They knew it was dangerous to be in school in that area (many schools had already been attacked or burned down) but, diligently, they wanted to finish their studies.
Precious began her story like all kidnapping stories do: from when they were last peaceful. She’d been sleeping in her dorm room when the gunshots first went off…
Many classmates didn’t wake up until they heard loud shouts from male voices. The girls wrongly thought it was soldiers who had come to protect them from militia forces, but when the men started shooting their guns off into the air, it was clear no one was going to protect them. Many girls had to go outside only in their underwear and bare feet as no time was given to dress.
The insurgents then asked a few girls to show them where their school storehouse was – where all of the food was kept. The rest were forced to lie on the ground while the soldiers burned the school down in front of them. The girls were so close they could feel the heat coming off of the buildings, afraid they were going to be burned alive with the schoolhouse.
“We told you that you could not go to school. We came here to enforce that order.” The attackers said; words that still ring in the girls’ minds.
Surviving the fire, they were made to walk 1-2 km (many with no shoes on, only pajamas) to the place where trucks awaited them for transportation to the forest. Precious tells me she had been thrown into the trunk of the car and transported for hours squashed with a few other girls in the trunk, gasping for breath.
After the seemingly endless drive, they found themselves surrounded by guns, men and ammunition in a make-shift forest camp. The girls were trying to think of any way to run. One of the girls thought it is better to die trying to escape than to live trapped in the hands of these men.
Precious barely slept that night, frightened, using every moment to plan her escape. She was scared to run out into the forest because she knew that Sambisa forest was so dense and (in her words) “filled with beasts”. 15 years old, alone, and trapped in a forest miles away from civilization with no way out except to run on her shoeless feet.
Precious waited until 5am, when some of the other girls woke up, to tell her kidnapper that she had to go to the bathroom. She went out into the forest and waited until no one was looking and then ran. For miles. Painful thorns from the thick forest brush pierced her feet, her knees and her legs. But for survival, you keep running, and in Precious’ case, for several days, without food or water; hiding from potential insurgents and any form of transport in case she’d be returned to hell on earth.
The pain in her feet from the thorns and days of adrenaline-led fear had taken its toll. Her run became a walk. Many kilometers and two nights later, when she finally made it to a safe house, the woman who lived there boiled water to help steam out the thorns that had now lodged deeply into her feet and calves. They cried together as she had to pull the thorns out one by one – the woman showing her empathy for the pain of this young little courageous one. Precious was transported from village to village on a variety of motorbikes until she finally made it back into her home – and the arms of her mother who held her and wept until they collapsed on top of each other. Her mother had to carry her around for days until her feet healed enough for her to even put weight on them.
After Precious told me her story, she leaned over to me and put her head on my chest. She cried as I rubbed her back for a moment… she was so sweet, so innocent.
And there are more than 200 girls exactly like Precious – who are still not home. Girls who are enduring the same hardship, pain, fear, terror that Precious had endured… but they are still in it; 90 days later. These girls are daughters, sisters and friends – desperate to have their horror end. To them, every second, every moment and every hour they are gone matters. They are waiting for someone to come for them – but as of yet – no help has arrived.
We are all people, sharing a common human experience that unites us across borders. Governments will fail, policies will fail, but we the people cannot fail. Not only can we help – they need us to help. Your voice raised for this issue DOES make a difference. The schoolgirls of Chibok, the mothers of Chibok and the community in Chibok NEEDS the help of the international community to raise their voice and to say – we will not allow any ideology that legitimizes or condones slavery to prevail in our modern, civilized society.
200 girls have suffered, but as a result the entire nation has suffered. And the pain of Nigeria is affecting the world. Mothers, brothers, families, tribes and communities will never be the same. Life is valuable, each individual is valuable.
Will you take a stand TODAY to help raise the voice that is yet to be heard?
Tweet, Instagram, post on Facebook – do something to keep hope alive. Write and call your government and demand that they help. Join the social media march to contact those you know have power. The more people say something, the louder the roar.
We will not relent until these treasured Chibok school girls are back in the arms of the ones they love the most.