276. That is how many Nigerian girls, ages 15 to 18, are still missing after a pre-dawn raid nearly three weeks ago. The raid occurred at the Government Girls Secondary School in the northern town of Chibok by the al Qaeda-linked group Boko Haram–which means “Western education is sinful.”
53 of these girls have escaped on their own. But the focus on their story is new–due to the unrelenting efforts of their relatives and social media to bang the drums and let us know that this story matters, that each one of these girls matters.
That is why my letter this week is to them.
Dear young women of Chibok, Nigeria,
It’s me, Melissa.
I cannot begin to comprehend the terror you are feeling. You, who were already surviving in a country facing terror on a daily basis, as evidenced by the car bomb explosion in Nigeria’s capital on Thursday that killed at least 12 people just days before your nation was set to host a major, international economic forum.
And this attack occurred across the road from the site of a massive explosion less than a month ago that killed at least 75 people, the same day you young women were kidnapped from your school.
But the reality of your country’s woes does not excuse us from being absent in demanding more attention be paid to your story. Because you matter.
Nor does it excuse your president, who took two weeks to make a public vow to bring you back after you were taken at gunpoint, and your school burned down. Now there are reports that you are being sold off for $12 a person to your captors, being taken across the border, and trafficked into slavery. Twelve dollars?Your lives cannot be equated to a dollar amount. Because your potential is limitless. And now the drumbeat from those in your country and around the world are banging loudly so that you will not be forgotten. From the dozens of protesters that gathered outside Nigeria’s parliament on Wednesday to call on security forces to search for you, to the growing online campaign #BringBackOurGirls, which is forcing the media and the world to pay attention and conveying to you that you are not just Nigeria’s daughters – you are daughters of the world. As evidenced by the group that rallied outside the U.N. to protest the abductions, visibly frustrated by the lack of progress.
You matter to the U.S. State Department, which this week engaged in discussions with the Nigerian government on what we can do to assist efforts to find each and every one of you. And you most certainly matter to your distraught parents. Many dressed in red holding a day of protest on Thursday and marching from the residence of a local chief to the scene of your kidnapping, many carrying signs that simply said, “Find Our Daughters”.
You have not been forgotten. We are sorry it took us so long to pay attention. But we are watching now, we are pounding the drums, because each one of you matter.