Florence Ozor at the 2014 Women's Leadership Retreat at Entusi Resort and Retreat Center in Uganda Dave Ladek. They were nurses and business leaders, lawyers and philanthropists, teachers and entrepreneurs; and when they came together, some extraordinary conversations took place. On the second morning of the retreat, Florence Ozor from Nigeria took the stage. What she told our group that day would change each and every one of us. Here is her story:
On April 14, in Chibok, Nigeria, 276 girls were sleeping in their school dormitory. In the coming days, they were scheduled to take their secondary school exams.
What happened that night would change their—and our—lives forever. Boko Haram struck and abducted them. Boko Haram stole our girls.
News of the abduction reached me while I was in the U.S. completing a Fortune/U.S State Department Mentoring Program. I dismissed it, calling it a rude joke. But in the following days, it became clear that our girls had indeed been abducted.
Following my return home few weeks later, I was shocked: Nothing was being said or done to rescue our girls, and communication about the issue was nonexistent in Nigeria. But around the world, the demand to #BringBackOurGirls had already caught on like wildfire, as citizens, celebrities and political figures from around the globe refused to be silent about this issue.
Back in Nigeria, a remarkable woman named Hadiza Bala Usman saw the opportunity to take the outrage from social media to the streets—to draw attention and demand that our government rescue of our girls.
Usman formed a coalition of women who planned a protest on April 30, which I joined. In our sustained protests since that time, we have not skipped a day. We have been faced with intimidation, harassment, ban and attack, but we will not be silenced. There’s absolutely no great thing you achieve without a struggle. We’ve engaged key stakeholders, drawn the attention of our government and sustained a massive global media campaign.
But our girls are not yet home. This is a tragedy that we refuse to accept. If half the resources expended on the recovery of the Malaysian airplane were applied to these brave girls’ safe return, we would already have them back home.
What problems you don’t solve always snowball into a bigger ones. And as the world has turned its attention to other matters, attacks by Boko Haram are increasing.
In recent weeks, Boko Haram has widened its strategy from terrorist attacks to actually seizing territory in my country. They have taken several Nigerian towns close to the Cameroonian border and will likely take more. They have also started to incorporate young girls in their attacks. I shudder to think: Have our girls been turned in suicide bombers? Are they falling victim to Stockholm Syndrome? Are they being brainwashed and drugged?
All these girls dared to do was go to school.
In the past five months, we’ve gotten our government and world leaders to listen and to think, but it is now time to act. Continuing to demand action is the only way to compel our world leaders to rescue our girls. It is our collective responsibility as one human to another. It is a moral obligation; it is the responsible thing to do; It is the right thing to do!
It calls on our shared humanity to respond to girls who bravely dared to get education in spite of apparent dangers. It speaks to girls everywhere in the world whose existence is hanging in the balance because of their choice to be educated. It speaks on the survival, legitimacy and right of education for girls around the world.
We cannot forget them. We cannot fail them. Bring back our girls—now and alive!
By Florence Ozor As told to Jamie Van Leewen and Tasha Eurich (Global Livingston Institute)
The Global Livingston Institute is dedicated to getting people to think differently and to think bigger about how we tackle our complex social issues and look for innovative solutions to poverty. For more information, visit www.globallivingston.org