Education Is Scary, By Margee Ensign

“Education is scary. There are so many people who discouraged
us, given that our girls were kidnapped and escaped, and told
us we should not put them in school again. Now, we who have
agreed, we are giving our children to you. You are the ones to
protect them and we are grateful for your help.”
Education is scary for the parents of the 58 Chibok girls who
escaped from Boko Haram on April 14th, as the mother of one
of these girls’ states. More than 200 children did not escape
and they are still being held. How did the American University
of Nigeria (AUN) bring 15 of these “escaped girls” to our
campus?
At American University of Nigeria (AUN) where I serve as
president, one of our newly hired AUN security guards, Godiya,
told our security director, Dr. Lionel Rawlins in May that her
sister had escaped. Could we help her? She came into my office
and in a very soft voice poignantly told me that her sister was
one of the girls who had escaped. Her sister and the others
were back in Chibok – not attending school, but taking long 5-7
km walks during the day to avoid being home when Boko Haram
returned for them. Could we help them.
As Africa’s first development university, we have made it our
mission to ensure that the local and very poor community
outside our university grounds also benefits socially and
economically from our programs. Helping these young women
was unquestionably the right thing to do.
We asked Godiya if she would go back home to Chibok to try to
identify these brave girls who had escaped and see if any was
interested in continuing the education that Boko Haram had so
terrifyingly cut short. With enough funds for ten scholarships,
Godiya talked with nine girls and their parents, who gratefully,
but also with trepidation accepted the offer to come to AUN.
The final day of her trip to Chibok, found Godiya meeting with
the father of two daughters. Placed in the impossible position
of choosing which of his girls could take advantage of the gift
offered him, Godiya improvised, writing “GO TO AUN” on one
side of a piece of paper and “WAIT FOR ANOTHER CHANCE”
on the other, and was preparing to ask him to choose.
Fortunately, we reached Godiya in time to tell her not to
choose between them – that we would find the funds for both
numbers 10 and 11
While we were making plans to receive the students, we got a
call from one of the parents saying they really did not believe
we were coming, so they were moving from Chibok, which is still
threatened. We decided to go the next day.
Not surprisingly, the morning my security director and I went
to get the girls, none of our local armed security guards would
accompany us. As we drove north ¾ of the way to Chibok, we
were uncertain where we would find the girls and their parents.
We knew the village, but not the exact location. As we reached
the village in the quiet of the early morning in our AUN mini
buses, with all but the smallest logo removed, we saw a group of
people waving at us as we approached an intersection.
We had found them. Most of the girls had very small bags with
them; some had nothing. Eleven girls and 11 parents moved
quickly into our vehicles. A new life-for all of us-had begun.
The drive back to AUN was quiet; we were all anxious to return
to the safety of our campus, to Yola. The girls and their
parents said very little. Now safely on our campus, they have
begun to talk and we have learned more about that dreadful
night. We were told that on the night all of them were
abducted men wearing Nigerian military uniforms showed up at
the school and herded the girls on to trucks and motorcycles. .
One of the girls, a nineteen-year-old, told us they were
awakened during the night by a group of men. They were told
they were being rescued from their boarding school that was
threatened She noticed the men were wearing kaftans and
weren’t wearing any shoes. “Deep inside me,” the girl told us,
“I feel that these people are not soldiers. They are not
rescuers.” She jumped through a window and ran into the bush,
never looking back. 47 others also escaped that night.
Four more have made their way to campus to study with us.
When I asked our Founder, Atiku Abubakar if he would help fill
the gap again between what we have raised and what we need,
he said, “Send me the bill.”
These, now 15 young women are among the bravest, strongest,
most determined young women I have ever met in my 25 years
in education. I wish the whole world could see the two sisters,
numbers 10 and 11. They never leave each other’s sides; they
jumped out of the truck together and they will forever protect
each other. They are all in intense, individualized academic
programs preparing them to take the JAMB next year. Then
they will enroll at AUN as undergraduates.
They will succeed because of their determination and because
they have the support of an entire university community-
faculty, students and staff, who have embraced them. This
week when I visited with them, two who had been so quiet asked
if they could make a presentation. I was surprised. They stood
up and holding hands read from a piece of paper: “This
education is changing our lives and our families. Once we finish
we will go back and change our communities.” The
transformation has begun. They-and we-know the importance
of education in improving individual lives, communities and
countries.
The data on successful development has long told us an
important and often ignored truth: it is crucial that we
educate girls and women. This is not only just, but improving
their access to education and health care is also the most
important intervention a society can make towards
development. Add to this increasing women’s participation in
political life and you have the key elements to building
successful, sustainable democracies. Nothing is more important
in Nigeria at this moment, because education is the hope for a
better future.
There are 47 more girls who have escaped and who deserve to
be students again.
We launched #EducateOurGirls through http://www.aunf.org to offer
every single escaped girl as well as other vulnerable children,
the chance for an education at AUN. It is no accident that
Boko Haram is thriving in the least educated region of the
country. In northeast Nigeria, illiteracy is the norm and access
to quality public education is almost nonexistent. It is crucial
that we invest in the future of Nigeria’s young people because
their futures will determine the future of Nigeria. Without
creating opportunities for their education and employment,
Africa’s most populous nation cannot and will not find
prosperity and progress. Of course, efforts like these alone will
not defeat terror. But terrorism thrives where hope and
opportunity languish, and the escaped girls who are now
studying at AUN are a strong reminder of the transformative
power of education.
Education may be scary for the thousands of Nigerians who
are afraid to send their children to school in a region
terrorized by Boko Haram. A society without education is even
scarier.

Margee Ensign is President of the American University of
Nigeria in Yola, Nigeria. The American University of Nigeria
Foundation (aunf.org) is raising funds for scholarships for the
other 47 girls who escaped Boko Haram.

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