Suffering and Strength

05/22/2015 03:56 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2016

They gave them Tang to drink. It was next to each hospital bed. The women and children were malnourished and non-communicative. They were sitting and lying on the floor, because for months-even years-they had neither beds nor mats to sleep on. Their food was nutrient-poor and insufficient. Many had infections but no antibiotics had been offered. Their clothes had not been washed or changed in many months. These were the women and children who had been rescued from Sambesa forest. Twenty-two of the sickest were in our local Federal Medical Center. Turai, a local women who is a member of our Adamawa Peace initiative, (API) and I visited them that first night. One woman showed us where there was a bullet in her leg. It had been there for four days. "They pushed me in front of the soldiers", she said in Hausa, and she was shot as the army approached. She had been Boko Haram's human shield. She was operated on that night.

Malnourished babies sat on the laps of other small children. The doctor was nowhere in sight. Boxes of Tang were near each bed. It's hard to imagine this is what malnourished people would be given. Turai raced to the market, bought local food, and with several other women prepared meals for them for the next few days. The director of our university clinic brought boxes of antibiotics. The response from state and national authorities was very slow.

Two hundred seventy five women and children who had been rescued from Sambesa forest arrived in our town of Yola, on Saturday, May 2nd. On Sunday, several of us from the university and the Adamawa Peace Initiative also visited the camp where the majority are being housed. Like what we saw at the hospital, their clothes were hanging off, faces blank, and children severely malnourished. That night, AUN students gathered clothes for them and washed and ironed them. We returned the next day and passed them out.

One woman asked for water. We immediately called our local water plant and asked that cases of water be sent to the camp. As we walked out we saw the food storage area-satchels of water and food lined the walls. Is this what happens at refugee camps around the world: those most in need receive too little too late?

We took two babies with us back to same local hospital because they were near death. Members of the international NGO community-IRC, Red Cross, Oxfam were also there, watching. It is impossible to understand why they had not moved faster.

The next week the international community--mainly the international press-arrived in Yola to document what had happened to the women and children. CNN announced that 200 (of the 275 rescued) were pregnant. This is not accurate. There are many more babies than mothers, however so there were multiple rapes over a long period of time. It will take a long time for these women and children to heal-physically and emotionally.

But heal they can.

"Can we go to the camp and talk to the women? We can help them and give them hope."

Nine months after escaping from Boko Haram, our AUN students from Chibok have been reborn. They are ready to offer assistance to the women and children who were rescued from the same terrorists. Blessing, Mary and Deborah have asked to go this week to the camp to listen to the stories, pray with them, and offer hope. "Won't this be too hard for you?" I asked. "Won't this bring back bad memories? "All of them said that it might, but that they were strong and were the only ones who could understand the suffering. Mary said, "We have forgiven those who kidnapped us so we can do this. We want to help them. " Before we could arrange their visit the army abruptly moved the women and children to an undisclosed location yesterday.

Our 21 students from Chibok show us daily the transformative power of education. From barely being able to read and write, one of the students has scored in the top 10% of the national (JAMB) exams this year. In nine short months they have gone from looking like those at the camp, to become strong, confident, healthy, forward looking young women. They want to be doctors and teachers and scientists and someday rebuild Chibok. They appreciate their education, their laptops, their new friends and air conditioning!

Recently, when asked what her new education meant to her, Grace, said: Education gives me the wings to fly, the power to fight, and the voice to speak."

As the world faces increasing challenges from alienated, unemployed and hopeless youth, education is the only answer. Education and a nurturing environment can allow all young people to spread their wings, feel its power, and raise their voices.