‘Chibok girls’, no longer
By Dr. Margee Ensign
Girls no longer, they are now strong, determined, focused and smart women
Her reflections on her four years in college could have come from any university student: “Meet new people, try to work with people you disagree with, get involved in activities and clubs and sports because you learn about team work and determination. And every night write a plan for what you will do the next day.”
But she is not just any graduating student. She is one of the rescued ‘Chibok Girls.’
“I studied in Rome and I learned about a new culture and language. For the first time I had to figure out train schedules and how to budget my money. I went to the Vatican on my first day in Rome and could not believe what I saw.” No. Not just any new graduate.
Captured in April, 2014, one group of ‘Chibok Girls’ has been with us at the American University of Nigeria (AUN) since August, 2014. That first group – who we ourselves brought to campus in the middle of the insurgency – had escaped from their Boko Haram captors in the early days. In the beginning, twenty-four of them came to us at AUN. Later, when they were rescued in 2017, an additional one hundred and six joined them.
Here, we created a New Foundation School for them, a program that gives them the academic, social and psychological support needed to recover and to prepare to eventually thrive as college students. The program was funded by a very generous American, Robert Smith, who has supported the first group of students since fall, 2014. Then Nigeria’s Federal Government, through its Victim Support Fund, sent us the second, much larger group. In an extraordinary achievement, this fall, all of them will be actually enrolled in the University, from which two have already graduated.
The world has heard much about their kidnapping, their escapes. Their tragedy. But what of their success as college students? Girls no longer, they are now strong, determined, focused and smart women. And the lessons we should now draw from their lives and their successes can be applied to the millions of children around the world who have experienced violence and trauma.
At AUN, we have surrounded these women with support of every type – academic, psychological, and social. They are fully integrated into the lives of the campus; few even know who the “Chibok students” are. In meeting with them recently, each student talked about her goals. “I am studying law because I want to make sure everyone gets justice.” “I am studying natural and environmental science because I am worried about our planet.” “I am studying accounting so I can stop corruption.”
Universities around the world could develop programs like ours, to support deserving students like these. But until a network of willing universities can be established, millions of children are out of school entirely, at all levels, and the pandemic has exacerbated this huge problem.
In fact, every day on CNN and BBC, we see pictures of children fleeing violence and natural disasters, living in refugee camps, adrift as schools closed during the pandemic. Do we just wait it out? Is there a way to provide education in the midst of these disasters?
At AUN, we have learnt that education for children in disasters can take many forms. The formal, all-encompassing education that the Chibok women are receiving isn’t always possible. But a less formal and far less costly approach is.
For out-of-school children, we have created an educational approach that can work in disaster settings. Does work in disasters. We call it TELA: Technology Enhanced Learning for All. Our recent book explains in detail how it works, and why.
Project TELA was launched here in Yola at the height of the Boko Haram crisis, with funding from USAID, when hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people had fled from the North to the relative safety of Yola.
Schools couldn’t accommodate them.
A local AUN-Community group, the Adamawa Peace Initiative, stepped in, providing program such as Feed-and-Read for very young street children and Peace Through Sports for teenagers. But what about their education? No schools. No teachers. No books.
Faced with much illiteracy, TELA engaged the whole community in an effort to improve reading and mathematics. Students, faculty and staff at AUN created radio-based and digital lessons in the local language. People from the community were trained as volunteer facilitators and assigned learning centers and groups of “students” to supervise. The broadcasts began and mobile classrooms were visited by volunteers, who were critically important in improving reading and math scores. The results were remarkable: Basic widespread literacy and numeracy achieved rapidly and inexpensively. Attitudes toward learning and education improved. It was a huge community effort and it worked.
Efforts like our New Foundation School and TELA can be easily adapted here in Nigeria. In Africa. Around the world. Mary, a “Chibok Girl” no longer, graduated last week with a B.A. in Accounting. She has a life plan and a future. As a start, she will work at AUN using her skills in the Feed and Read project. “I want,” she said, “to give back to my community.”
President Margee Ensign first published this Op-Ed in Premium Times on July 29,