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For those who were unable to participate in the Google Hangout on the situation surrounding the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls and how to best help, here is a recap of the major points, along with additional pertinent information.

Three weeks later, the figure given as to how many girls who remain missing after being taken by dozens of armed insurgents from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria, on April 15, 2014, remains disputed. The families’ count is 234, but the government believes the figure is 276 or higher. Many believe the girls are currently being held in Borno State, in the Sembisa Forest, a known Boko Haram hideout about two hours from Chibok.

Of the original group of kidnapped, about 50 have escaped. There is, of course, speculation about the status of the remaining, including that some have died, are ill, have been married or sold, or have been transported out of Nigeria.

The insurgents are heavily armed, and local groups have not been successful at bringing these girls back. When the girls were first kidnapped, their parents and other locals, including hungers, attempted to rescue them, but when it became clear this was not a “typical” abduction – in other words, the kidnappers have no intention of negotiating the return of the girls – they redirected their efforts to raising attention to the situation. 

Yesterday, eight more girls were kidnapped. These kidnappings have been taking place daily for several months, yet it is only now receiving international attention. 

The girls who were taken were attending a boarding school, which is significant for Northeastern Nigeria. The education of girls is not at all a forgone conclusion, with only 3 percent of girls in the area going to University. The taken girls were preparing for exams to gain entry into University. Northeastern Nigeria has the highest ratio in the country of maternal deaths at childbirth, at 650 women per 100,000 births. There is also a large difference in the age at which girls are married, often as young as 12-13 years of age in the Northeast. The parents of these girls, and of all girls attending school in this part of Nigeria, made the decision to invest in their daughters, keeping them in school so they can attend university and have a different life. That life has now been specifically threatened by the captors, and these events also jeopardize the futures of each girl living in this part of the world, whose parents may be right to doubt the safety of sending their daughters to school. We must not only do everything we can to save the girls who have been taken, but also to restore and protect the safety of all girls working to receive an education.

The Boko Haram insurgents have a hatred of western education in general (Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin”), which is believed by some to be due to the fact that the members themselves were cheated out of a formal education: instead of sending their boys to school, their parents sent them out to beg and to study under radical clerics. It is difficult to say precisely what motivates the Boko Haram members, but resentment at not having a western education and a misunderstanding of Islam seem likely. They did not kidnap these girls for the purpose of negotiation, but to disrupt their education and to discourage other parents from educating their children.

The global community –online and on-the-ground – can help and has already helped. Local protests are taking place in solidarity with the girls and their families. Sarah and Gordon Brown are on their way to Nigeria for the World Economic Forum, and they will take with them the signatures from the petition (the hope is to get to one million signatures). These social media efforts will give Brown a stronger position from which to put pressure on Nigerian and other international leaders to find the girls, protect them in the future and keep this from happening again. While it may seem far-fetched that signing a petition or changing an avatar makes a difference, a diverse, but unified voice is being heard by decision makers and leaders who are in a position to take tangible action. In addition to signing petitions, writing your local leaders and telling them this is important to you and that you demand action can go a long way.

Protestors in Nigeria truly do feel solidarity with what is being called the “social media march.” They have been agitating for a long time, as Boko Haram has not only kidnapped schoolgirls, they have also killed an untold number of schoolboys. There is a sense of relief that there is now agitation taking place at the international level, and a sense of hope that something might actually be done to stop these atrocities.

Things readers can do now, if they haven’t already:

  1. Get the Girl Rising Action Pack
  2. Continue to share the story of these girls, and the other kidnapped and killed schoolchildren, keeping visibility high
  3. Keep using #bringbackourgirls
  4. Sign petitions
  5. Donate, not only to help bring the girls back, but also to aid in their rehabilitation and support safe education for all girls and boys in Nigeria

How do we keep this from happening? Security must be looked at holistically, as a response to restless young people. There will always be radicalism where poverty and hunger prevails and joblessness is the norm.

What forms of international assistance are likely to help? Intelligence support will be most helpful. It is not likely the girls will be rescued by storming the insurgent group. Nigerian police and security do not have the training and capacities to extract the kidnapped girls safely. If you are calling on your local leaders to provide assistance, encourage them specifically to give intelligence and tactical assistance.

The education of all children is a human value and a right. Insurgents fight against education because of the power it holds. Threats against education, especially of girls, are not just a Nigerian issue, but a global one. But the benefits that come from educating girls are proven and exponential, and we must come together to protect it. 

A special thank you to Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and Girl Rising for co-hosting the Google hangout; Christopher Dickey of The Daily Beast for moderating; and participants Hafsat Abiola, Nigerian human rights activist; Fidelis Mbah, BBC correspondent; Gretel Truong with A World at School; Meredith Walker with Smart Girls; and Tara Abrahams and Holly Gordon with Girl Rising.

You can watch the video from the Google hangout here.


Pierre Ferrari

Pierre Ferrari is president and CEO of Heifer International. Pierre is very passionate about empowering the families and communities with whom Heifer works: “It took me decades, but I have come to know that the only way to happiness and joy is to be of service to others.” Pierre’s other joys are his wife, Kim, his two sons and two stepdaughters. In his free time he enjoys golf, squash, reading and travel.