Many people in my country believe girls don’t need an education. Why would they? Once they are of child-bearing age, they should get married, take care of household chores and give birth.
Some say that’s why 276 school girls from Chibok, North Eastern Nigeria, were kidnapped three years ago. It’s poignant that the place where children should feel at their safest was the most dangerous place they could have been on April 14, 2014.
I remember the day clearly. I live in Jos, central Nigeria. Everyone knows Northern Nigeria has security issues, while the rest of the country is blighted by poverty and conflict. As a girl, you have to be careful in everything you do, but school is where you should feel safe and able to be yourself.
The kidnapping was jaw-dropping. It sent ripples of fear and shock across schools, villages and communities. That night, the entire country was filled with suspense, pain and fear. As a teenager, it made me realise nowhere is safe. If I wanted to survive, I had to learn how to protect myself.
My fellow Girl Guides and I were all devastated by the kidnapping. We desperately wanted to make our voices heard, but it was difficult. This was more than a kidnapping; it was a political and religious crisis. In many ways, it silenced us. It made us fear speaking out and at times it was hard to overcome this feeling and fight for the voice we’d worked so hard for.
Speaking outBut as time went by, we knew we couldn’t stay silent. As girls, we had to raise our voices and speak out for those who aren’t able to have a voice, for those who had been taken into captivity and for the children in Chibok whose lives had been torn apart by violence.
We started making statements, holding rallies and we ran campaigns to #BringBackOurGirls. We went to churches and markets, anywhere where people would listen to our plight to stop the violence.
It was a unique opportunity to educate others through our Voices Against Violence curriculum, a non-formal education programme created by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and UN Women, focused on encouraging young people to take action and put a stop to violence. As a youth trainer for the Nigerian Girl Guides and Champion of Voices Against Violence it’s my role to make sure our message is spread far and wide.
The reception varied. Some agreed to be a part of the programme, others saw it as futile, hopeless and told us they were uninterested in such a movement. It didn’t stop us. We still spoke up and educated girls and young women about how to be aware of the warning signs of violence as that’s where it begins.
Giving hopeWhere possible, my Girl Guide group and I visited internally displaced people (IDPs) in Jos, Abuja, Rivers and a number of other states. At a national level we donated items such as food and clothes.
The camps where they live are home to children from Chibok who have lost their parents. Many of these young people were forced to flee their homes, due to brutal bombings that destroyed their family, their belongings and their communities. Children saw their parent’s blown-up, bearing witness to events a child should never have to see.
Now, they live in dusty camps where survival and welfare depends on the goodwill of people who want to care and support them in whatever capacity. The faces of these children speak survival not life. As Girl Guides, we want to support these young people and bring hope and light to an otherwise dark situation.
So far, we have visited one of the camps, with the aim of supporting young people and teaching them how to protect themselves. We ask to speak to the girls alone, so they feel comfortable. We ask questions and encourage them to open up about life in the camp. We explain why it is important to take care of themselves and how to do it. We share tips on how to identify violence, who to report it to and we encourage them to speak out. If they aren’t able to speak out in the camp, we share our details so they can speak to us.
This important work must continue but the Nigerian Girl Guides is a volunteer-led organisation, so we are sometimes limited by capacity and resource. Yet, even when funds are scarce, we refuse to give up.
#BringBackOurGirlsIn Nigeria, many people have lost hope. Some believe we will never find the Chibok girls who were kidnapped. However, I strongly believe people must continue to care and do what they can to bring back these girls. They deserve to come back.
Sometimes, I imagine what life would be like in their shoes. I would want to come back home, no matter how long it took. No girl should be punished because she wants to go to school. Every girl deserves to get an education. It’s a basic human right. If a boy can go to school, then a girl should be able to as well.
Girls’ educationEducating girls and young women continues to be an issue close to my heart and one that must be addressed. I have not been able to go to university. My parents could only afford to send one child into further education. It was decided it would be my brother, as he is older and male.
I stayed back. Now my education has been delayed for two years and it’s proving a struggle to get into public university. My situation may be sad, but it’s worse if no efforts are made to ensure girls’ education is a priority are there are many more cases that exist just like mine across the country.
My brother has nearly graduated and I haven’t even started. I do worry about my future and sometimes I feel my dreams slowly slipping away.
However, Guiding continues to give me hope. As part of this Movement, I have been given the opportunity to travel, learn new things, and learn about issues affecting girls as well as fight for our rights. That’s why the Chibok girls matter to us. It’s not just their fight; it’s a fight for all of us.