Vigils to mark 500 days since Chibok schoolgirls were abducted

Chibok girls, Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies, Girls' education, Safe schools

Five hundred days ago today, the lives of more than 200 schoolgirls changed forever. The students at the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria, were abducted by gunmen from Boko Haram.

Many of them escaped during the chaos of the mass kidnapping. Others fled from their abductors in the days and weeks that followed. But 219 are still missing and presumed to be in the clutches of Boko Haram, who posted videos of them last year.

Today – to mark the 500 days since the girls were taken – some of their relatives held a candlelight vigil and join a march by young Chibok Ambassadors in the capital Abuja. It’s part of a week of events including Muslim and Christian prayer services.

Sesugh Akuma from the #BringBackOurGirls campaign said: “We never envisaged that our girls would still not be rescued 500 days after their abduction. We are extremely saddened.” Manasse Allen, 45, an uncle of two of the missing girls, was at Unity Foundation in Abuja, where the march and vigil will be held. He said: “It really is a very painful experience. It’s traumatic.”

Faces of just some of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls

Fourteen parents have died since the girls were abducted on April 14, 2014. New Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said at his inauguration in May: “This government will do all it can to rescue them alive.” He set the army a three-month task to crush Boko Haram and dozens of girls and women have been rescued from camps during operations in the northeast of the country.

The president met the United Nations Secretary-General in Abuja on August 24, where Ban Ki-moon said: “I once again call in the strongest possible terms on those responsible to unconditionally release these girls and the many other abducted children.”

Mr Ban also talked about the Sustainable Development Goals, which will be adopted at the UN General Assembly in September. He said the international community had to be “people-centred” to achieve the goals and that included having safe schools and empowering women and girls.

Within weeks of the Chibok kidnappings, the Safe Schools Initiative was launched in Nigeria with a $10 million contribution from the business sector by the Global Business Coalition for Education, matched by a $10 million contribution from the Nigerian government.  

Ban Ki-moon talks to students at Garki Junior Secondary School in Abuja Picture: UN

A World at School launched a campaign and more than $10 million was also mobilised by donors, including the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Germany and the African Development Bank through the UN children’s agency UNICEF and a new UNDP Trust Fund for Safe Schools. 

This has resulted in some notable successes for the Safe Schools Initiative. A pilot for the Students Transfer Programme took 800 students from each of the three states worst affected by insurgency – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – and put them in schools in safer parts of the country. Most adapted quickly and have excelled academically.

The Schools Remodelling/Reconstruction Programme has seen schools in the three states picked as pilots and assessed for upgraded infrastructure, physical protection, security plans and staff training. Approval was also given for the rebuilding of the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok.

Double-shift schooling has been introduced for internally displaced children in four states – Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and Gombe. By May a total of 47,952 children had been reached. Teachers have received additional training and learning support and teaching materials have been distributed to double-shift schools.

Sarah Brown: real progress on Safe Schools Initiative in Nigeria

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