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      The Girls Who Escaped: One Year After the Boko Haram Kidnapping, Some Chibok Schoolgirls Have Left Nigeria

      The Girls Who Escaped: One Year After the Boko Haram Kidnapping, Some Chibok Schoolgirls Have Left Nigeria The Girls Who Escaped: One Year After the Boko Haram Kidnapping, Some Chibok Schoolgirls Have Left Nigeria The Girls Who Escaped: One Year After the Boko Haram Kidnapping, Some Chibok Schoolgirls Have Left Nigeria
      Photo via UNICEF

      Africa

      The Girls Who Escaped: One Year After the Boko Haram Kidnapping, Some Chibok Schoolgirls Have Left Nigeria

      By Sally Hayden

      When Boko Haram arrived at the Chibok school northern Nigeria nearly a year ago in the dead of night, the militants gave an 18-year-old named Peace and 275 of her schoolmates a simple choice: leave with them, or be killed.

      Of those 276 girls, 57 managed to find their way home. Some, like Peace, jumped from moving trucks. Others were allowed to run after the militants realized they didn't have space for them. The vast majority of the schoolgirls are still missing — possibly alive, possibly slaughtered.

      Peace — who requested that VICE News call her by a pseudonym — now lives in America. At least a dozen of the Chibok girls have now relocated there and are attending a boarding school, according to human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe.

      Ogebe, a Nigerian and former political detainee, is involved in an initiative called "Education Must Continue," which he says represents the "antithesis" to Boko Haram, whose name translates in English to "Western education is forbidden."

      "We had to work with the girls and offer them a safe place and relocation and a fresh opportunity," Ogebe told VICE News.

      "For many of the girls they had reached a point where they say it's not worth it any more to go back to school, we can't go anywhere that it's safe for us," he said.

      The group has identified 12 more girls who they hope to soon remove from Nigeria. "You know they were lucky to escape," Ogebe said. "They were not rescued, remember, they were not rescued. They escaped by their own steam. It's a high risk activity to go back to school."

      Peace, 18, can still vividly remember the night of April 14, 2014. Most of her classmates had stayed in the school, going to sleep around 11pm. "At about 12:30 we heard the shout of the guards," she said.

      Peace hadn't been sleeping that night — the onus was on her to wake her friends. One girl phoned her father, who advised the girls not to run because no one was certain where the militants were.

      "After that, after about 10 minutes we heard Boko Haram come to our school," Peace said, adding that some militants were on bicycles, some in cars, and others had traveled "by their legs."

      "They ask us, 'Where is your hijab?' We tell them that we don't have a hijab," she said. "Then they ask us to stand up and walk in one direction. We started walking, walking."

      Some of the terrified schoolgirls were herded into vehicles.

      "They tell us who want to die and who want to be alive?" Peace recalled. "We kept quiet. [They said] if you want to die, stay here, if you want to be alive enter this car. So we were afraid. We had to enter the car, if not they would kill us. We entered."

      As they were driven away from their village, their education, and their lives, Peace began whispering to a friend, a girl who is now with her in Washington, DC.

      "I said to this girl we don't know where we're going," she said. "We have to jump whether we be alive or without. So we jumped."

      The girls ran from the ensuing shouts. According to Peace, they ended up falling asleep near where they jumped. After they awoke, they managed to find someone to help them.

      'We still have a chance to turn this around. There could still be a storybook ending.'

      Peace hurt her leg during the escape. "I started crying, crying," she said

      The girls eventually made their way back to Chibok. Peace said her family cried tears of joy when she arrived.

      Other girls from Chibok were less fortunate and are still missing, possibly killed or forced to marry Boko Haram fighters.

      "This is not like the missing Malaysia [Airlines flight 370] where you know that there is no hope of recovery," Ogebe told VICE News. "We still have a chance to turn this around. There could still be a storybook ending."

      ***

      Laurent Duvillier, a UNICEF fieldworker, told VICE News that the conflict in northern Nigeria is fundamentally an attack on the country's youth. Boko Haram initially attacked empty schools during the night, "but this moved to targeting students and teachers and using this to instill fear," he said.

      The fighting has displaced at least 1.5 million people in northern Nigeria, with many fleeing to neighboring countries. Duvillier said many minors forced to flee are often unaccompanied, malnourished, and unvaccinated.

      At least 15,000 Nigerians have been killed since 2009, almost half of them in 2014 when the level of brutality in the conflict significantly increased.

      "Those 200 girls should not be forgotten, but at the same time we should not forget about the 800,000 children who are today away from home because of Boko Haram violence," Duvillier said. "Those children have not received the attention that the Chibok girls have received. They deserve to receive the attention too. Let's not forget the Chibok girls, but let's not lose perspective of the entire situation that is dramatically unfolding before our eyes."

      A UNICEF report released Monday states that children are being used both as "targets" and "weapons," meaning they are being forced to fight or deployed as suicide bombers.

      "We have not even begun to understand the generational impact of what has happened," Ogebe told VICE News. "And so if those girls are trained to become doctors they will deal with a lot of the atrocities and those who survived them.

      "A few of them have said they want to become human rights lawyers like me because I inspired them by helping them," Ogebe added, proudly. "We are hoping that they will be representatives of the lost girls. A testament to success out of that horrific incident."

      For Peace, the attack last April represented her second face-to-face confrontation with Boko Haram. The group attacked her previous school in 2013, though that time their focus had been on male students. Peace refused to criticize the Nigerian army for their failure to adequately combat the threat.

      On a personal level, she still believes that her friends could return. "I think that people are hoping and they're praying maybe one day they will come back," she said. "I think maybe one day they will come back."

      Peace's favorite subjects in school are English and physical science, and when she graduates she would like to become a doctor.

      Peace said she may return to Chibok when she finishes her schooling, but for the moment she's glad to be where she is. "I left Nigeria because I came here for schooling," she told VICE News. "It's peaceful. I'm happy. In Nigeria there's no school. No peace. That's why I came here."

      Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

      Topics: africa, war & conflict, nigeria, boko haram, chibok girls, boko haram kidnapping, nigeria kidnapped girls

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