The Ray of Hope from Nigeria Should Inspire Us to Provide Safe Schools for Every Girl

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LONDON -- Finally, a ray of hope for the more than 270 Chibok girls whose abduction by Boko Haram on April 14 has led to six months of captivity -- six months during which the girls' parents did not even know whether their daughters were dead or alive.

The announcement on Friday of a potential cease-fire with Boko Haram and the strong rumor that the girls will be released on Monday is a vindication of the work of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and campaigners globally, who have never allowed the girls to simply vanish from the public eye.

On Saturday, the day after an announcement of a cease-fire, there were Boko Haram inspired attacks on two Nigerian villages. And, as I am writing this, the latest ​information is that "some" of the girls may be released but perhaps not all of them.

We cannot rest satisfied until every girl is returned to her family.

Then there will be the work of healing.

When the military options for rescue became difficult because the girls were split up and the release of one group would imperil others, the government did not give up. Amid constant rumors of exchange deals that would see the girls returned for Boko Haram prisoners seized by the Nigerian government, the government refused to do anything that would boost further terrorist incursions into Nigeria and her neighbors. Nigeria recognized that while Boko Haram had wreaked havoc, it reportedly had only around 1,000 terrorist fighters spread across Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, and it could one day be forced into concessions.

NO RETURN TO THE WAY THINGS WERE

But the schools of Nigeria cannot return to the way things were. Business as usual will not work. They have been changed forever by this outrage. For months, Boko Haram has managed to instill so much fear and anxiety amongst the schoolgirl population of northern Nigeria that thousands of girls no longer go to school.

Now, thanks to the president and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, there is a plan that brings hope for a better future for all girls who want to go to school. The plan might even tackle some of the problems that have allowed Boko Haram to cause so much trouble in the first place.

The international task force assembled at the behest of President Jonathan and chaired by Ngozi is gathering significant donor support for the Safe Schools Initiative. It is now ready to bring forward its proposals to fund better fortifications -- from fences to guards and better telecommunication links between schools and the armed forces -- that will help to allay fears of children that they may be abducted from what should be the safe haven of a classroom.

So far $25 million has been raised for this vital initiative, but a great deal more needs to be done. The Safe Schools Initiative was boosted with the news that 15 of the 57 girls who originally escaped from their kidnappers were going back to school and were even prepared to brave Boko Haram's threats to return to abduct them again.

These courageous girls are trying to make up for lost time in their studies. Some are at schools in others states, but soon if the Safe Schools Initiative works, many will be prepared to take up the help of Norway, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States for their own state.

Soon our focus will be the 10 million girls and boys who do not even enjoy elementary education in Nigeria, and we will make a plan to get them all to school as soon as we can. The Nigerian initiative to support girls in particular is part of a global civil rights struggle to end child trafficking, child labor, child marriage and discrimination against girls.

Support for Nigerian girls is at the heart of the efforts of hundreds of Global Youth Ambassadors, who descended on New York last month from 100 countries to demand the right for an education for all be met. Hadiza Bala Usman of the Bring Back Our Girls movement joined in with hundreds of other youth campaigners and other grassroots advocates from around the world. The crowd demanded that people across the world stand "Up For School" and launched a global petition that carries the hopes of young people everywhere. It is intended to be the biggest petition in history and was launched under the title #UpForSchool, aiming to increase the awareness of world leaders of the millions of girls and boys shut out from education.

With the possibility that the Chibok girls will go free soon, we must intensify our efforts for the wider global goal that every girl has the chance to be at school, safe and free from violence.

A previous version of this piece referenced the daughter of a local carpenter. New information has confirmed the girl was not in fact from the Chibok community.