|Saa with Emmanuel and our summit host Patricia Amira|
In West African Adrinka symbols the word AYA is the name for a fern. A fern is a hardy plant that grows in difficult places and people who choose to wear the AYA symbol may be symbolising their own strength, resilience, resourcefulness and endurance. This of course makes it a perfect symbol for this conference of mostly women exploring issues that affect women and girls in the main.
Don't get me wrong we are not a bunch of raging feminists who are only interested in furthering the cause of females. ONE Girls and Women was founded because poverty affects females disproportionately and we feel it is time for this to change and in campaigning to change things for girls and women, we are helping to change the world for everyone. It is proven that women put more back into their family when they are earning and able to provide and that creates change.
At the end of our first day of the conference, we were introduced to Emmanuel Ogebe, an International Human Rights Lawyer working with the Jubilee Campaign. This charity is committed to being a voice for those suffering in silence. It works with the United Nations in a consultative capacity to promote the human rights and religious liberty of ethnic and religious minorities around the world because they value freedom and democracy and the right to choose, speak, and believe.
Emmanuel was a friendly man and he made some jokes about being the man to come between a group of 75 women and their cocktail party but he was well received when he called us an 'Artilary of mamas and an Army of Amazons'. He then turned serious and pleaded with us to use our voice and to help spread the works of the Jubilee Campaign as he was just about to introduce us to someone very brave and special.
Saa (name changed for her protection) then stepped forward and we were told she was one of the near 300 girls abducted in Chibok, Nigeria six month ago. We all held our breath as this brave 18 year old woman told us her story of what happened that night. This is her account -
The girls were all at school and in their bedroom dormitory, then about 11.34pm they heard gun fire and were worried what might be happening. Saa called her father (a local pastor) who told her to stay put and wait for the teachers and security to come and advise them what to do. So the girls all stayed together and they started to pray together, asking the Lord to be with them.
Time passed and the noises were getting louder and the girls could not understand why the teachers had not come to them yet. They started to hear noise close by and their hopes raised as they assumed it was the teachers and security come to guide them to safely, but these hopes were soon dashed when they realised it was the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. They later found out the teachers had run away and left them there as lambs to the slaughter.
Saa told us that the terrorists were shooting and burning everything. They demanded food and asked to be taken to the kitchens. They told the girls "women's education ends in kitchen, why are you not getting married?" Saa and her friends were very scared and could not understand why this was happening to them but they knew they had to do as they were told or risk being killed.
All the food and school girls were loaded into large trucks and those who could not fit were told to walk behind to the next village. As the girls were being loaded onto the trucks three girls were asked if they were Christian, one said no and was telling the truth, one said no and was lying to protect herself and and other said yes she was a Christian. One of the militants got out his gun and wanted to shot the Christian girl but others told him to leave her and all three girls were told to run away and if they looked back they would be shot. Saa was as shocked by her friend denying her faith as she was the atrocious actions of the Boko Haram soldiers.
During their long journey Saa could not bear the thought of being killed by Boko Haram so she said to her friend "I've decided to jump down from the truck. I’d rather die and my parents have my coffin buried, than to go with them,” Saa's friend Leme went with her and as they passed a dense forest they both jumped. Saa was mostly uninjured but Leme hurt her legs and could not move. Saa immediately grabbed her and dragged her into the forest where it was very dark and dense so they would not be spotted. The girls rested and slept there as best they could until early morning.
Once it was light enough Saa went in search of help and came across a shepherd, she explained to him what had happened and begged for help but he said he could not risk helping her, he may be killed. The main road would get busy soon with people going to market and Saa should wait there and ask for help. Saa explained the road would be quiet today as no-one would come out after what had happened at the school, so the brave shepherd placed Saa's friend with the injured legs on his bike and took them to the local village, where the villager's helped her return to Chibok and be reunited with her extremely grateful Christian family.
I asked Saa what she would say to the shepherd if she ever saw him again and she said would thank him and she had promised him she would return but she has no idea where he is, as she can not even locate were they had jumped from the van. She is very fearful to return to Nigeria but will one day go back as she wants to see her parents. She smiled as she said if her parents were to come to America then she would never return as she no longer has any love for Nigeria.
We talked about the Jubilee Campaigns Education after Escape program and how she was enjoying being schooled in a high school in America. She told me she wished to study to become a medical doctor and the best thing about school in the US was "it's safe". Her parents are very happy to know she is being schooled somewhere that she can freely practise her Christian faith and also enjoy her schooling.
Saa's friend Leme is also in America with her as she suffered terrible PTSD and would wake in the night calling Saa's name, this has now lessened since she is back with her friend and protector. At the moment four girls have been bought to the states to be educated in safe boarding schools and as more funds are raised and visas granted then others will join them. Many of the kidnapped girls escaped in the first few days and lots of them have been sponsored and gone into various different safe programs across the world. I was overjoyed to hear from my friend Jenny who lives in Nigeria with her family, she told me that the American University of Nigeria has 16 of the girls there in an education program and she is really enjoying spending time with the girls and getting to know them.
If you want to offer financial assistance to help more girls move into safe education programs then this is the link to the giving page for the Jubilee Campaign.
It was a honour to meet Saa and I'm encouraged by her strength in her faith and her determination not to bow to such vicious captors. I pray for her safe and successful future and hope one day to hear that she is indeed a medical doctor as she desires.
I'll of course also be praying for the 219 girls that remain missing and sadly it now looks as if many of them are being married off to Boko Haram soldiers and forced to deny God and convert to Islam. It breaks my heart, really it does.
This is a video of Saa speaking and also Emmanuel talks about Boko Haram and his investigations of them, it is not from the conference I attended but of course Saa's account of what happened is the same. If you wish to listen to Saa jump to about 14 minutes in.
I attended the #AYASummit with ONE, if you wish to find out more about who ONE are then click here or here and if you wish to join the campaign and add your voice then click here.
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