A few weeks before school began this year, I learned an important lesson about courage and strength. My teacher’s name was Sa’a. She is one of the 276 teenage girls kidnapped by Boko Haram more than 900 days ago. As she shared her story at a recent town hall meeting at the Arsht Center hosted by U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, she transported the audience to that frightful night.
Sa’a was just a couple of years older than I am now when it happened. She was studying for her final exams in her dormitory room late at night when she and the other girls heard gunshots and shouts. Shaken by the chaos outside, they stayed put, assuming their teachers would come to them. Instead, they were met by terrifying men with guns who ordered them to do as they were told or die.
The girls were then forced into trucks and cars. Those who couldn’t fit in the vehicles had to walk. Their school burned in the background as they were taken away. Sa’a, cramped in one of the trucks, saw some girls jumping out and became determined to jump to freedom, too. She whispered to a friend beside her that she’d rather die than stay with Boko Haram. Together, they jumped out of the truck and hid in the forest.
Miraculously, 57 girls successfully fled from Boko Haram that night.
The next obstacle on Sa’a’s journey home was figuring out how to move her friend, who’d injured both legs, and could barely move unassisted. Despite her friend’s pleas to go and let her die, Sa’a stayed. Fortunately, help arrived: First, a man with a bike helped. Then a man on a motorcycle took them the rest of the way home.
I felt so many emotions as I listened to Sa’a — I was heartbroken and humbled, but most of all, grateful. I am in boarding school, studying uninhibited and unafraid. It’s a privilege that I had forgotten was one, and her story taught me to not take it for granted, but to take advantage. Discovering that such a nightmare can occur simply because one, especially a girl, wants to learn reminded me of my duty to be educated and to educate.
Asked if she suffered any survivor’s guilt after such an ordeal, the soft-spoken Sa’a became indignant. God, she said, had kept her alive for a purpose, to tell her story and in doing so help save her still-missing sisters.
Sa’a is studying biology and wants to become a doctor. She is part of a small group of girls who escaped that night and are in the United States pursuing their studies. But without financial support, their educations could be jeopardized, and they’re hoping that they won’t be forced to return to Nigeria and an uncertain future. But they are considered lucky. Other survivors have been unable to leave Nigeria. Once they mention that they were victims of violence, the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria refuses to give them visas for fear that the girls will not return home after their studies in the United States.
If that’s not injustice, I don’t know what is.
These girls have been traumatized and nearly killed in the pursuit of knowledge, something that we too often take for granted in our country. Continuing their education is the greatest act of rebellion, and I am in awe of them and their courage. Let them wage war with their words and intimidate Boko Haram with the weight of their minds. Give these girls the weapons with which to fight and they will.
With the election of a more benevolent president, the Nigerian government is working on a deal that would exchange Boko Haram soldiers for the girls still being held hostage. I have no doubt that they will be found, but until then, we must be their voice.
Using social media to spread the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, we can raise awareness. In fact, let’s take it one step further. Call your congressional representative and senator. Share your concern and tell them to act. Raise money so to help the girls here in the United States continue their studies. Make signs, wear T-shirts, talk to friends. But, please, don’t let the world forget about our girls.
Miami resident Skylar Carter is a junior at the Cranbrook Schools in Michigan.