In a side room at the American University of Nigeria, four girls chat and giggle. One teenage girl in particular catches our attention. She looks familiar. Then we realize why.
We met her just a few weeks after Boko Haram had attacked her school and abducted almost 300 students. As the Boko Haram trucks carrying them began to speed away to the militants’ territory, she and her friend bravely jumped, barely escaping with their lives. She was one of the lucky ones.
School, she says, from that day on became a reminder of what almost happened. A place she never wanted to return.
But now she is back and the change in her is remarkable. She dreams of remaining in the classroom as a teacher, so that just like her tutors, she can influence and inspire young minds.
Studying with her here are 21 other girls from Chibok. They, too, escaped Boko Haram. Like hundreds of others across Nigeria’s North East, they were targeted simply for going to school. Choosing to go back to class is a statement of their courage and focus on education, which they hope will bring change back home.
“My people need my support,” one girl says. “And me going to school will make that change,”
She wants to be a surgeon. In a part of the world often lacking the most basic health care infrastructure, she has chosen to bring value to her community. One of three students we spoke to who want to study medicine, she’s extraordinarily focused and firm in her responses. It is hard to imagine sitting with her now what she and the other girls have been through at Boko Haram’s hands, what they almost lost.
Some questions, though, they can’t answer: any questions about the night of the attack, any reference to the friends still missing. These are too hard.
Enrolled on scholarships at the university, these girls are the lucky ones, and they know it. There are 46 other Chibok girls who also escaped Boko Haram, but there are no funds available to pay for their education.
Dr. Margee Ensign, the school’s vice-chancellor, is hoping to change that by raising funds through the university’s foundation.
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Nima Elbagir and Lillian Leposo