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The 'Lost Girls' of Nigeria

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Girls: Our hope for the future

Close to 300 schoolgirls between the ages of 15-18 were kidnapped two weeks ago in the dead of night, from their beds, and from their school in Nigeria. The radical organization Boko Haram, whose name means, "Western education is sinful," appears to be the likely suspect. Some of the girls escaped and the tales they tell are every family's worst nightmare.

Many of the "Lost Girls" are being sold as wives to the organization's members for $12 USD, girls taken over the borders of neighboring countries and disappearing to who knows where. When this was happening, the Nigerian government seemed to not react, and the rest of the world seemed to be riveted to their TVs waiting to see if a selfish, bigoted man who owns a professional basketball team in the U.S. was going to get his team taken away from him. His behavior and words were considered an outrage, unacceptable, and inflammatory. But the end game for him compared to the end game for these girls was nowhere near the same. He might lose $2.5 million dollars, and lose his right to owning his team, but after all is said and done, he will remain a billionaire, free to come and go as he pleases, exercising his free will.

But what's the end game for these innocent girls, who were trying to get a basic education? And, most importantly, where is the hue and cry for them? Who will raise the flag and rally thousands demanding that something be done for their plight? So far, the Nigerian government is slow to do anything, and neither have we.

For the last year, I have been working to increase awareness in the United States on the global issue of neglect and abuse and health problems that plague pubescence girls -- globally. We know that if girls don't receive the right kind of support to stay in school, have positive self-esteem about themselves and their bodies, when they turn 12 (when puberty begins), they will not succeed. Education in all forms is a must for girls, as it affects their ability to fight issues associated with health (HIV, sexually transmitted disease), early childhood pregnancies, youth prostitution, female genital mutilation and in many countries, honor deaths. Without education there are so many barriers girls in the global arena face from cultures that place educating girls on the bottom rung, or not at all. It's not a priority.

The fact is, that educating girls educates the world. It's the mothers who teach their children right and wrong, who nurture intelligence and self-esteem, are role models for their boys, and reaffirm to girls that they too, can achieve their dreams. Lacking an education about their bodies and self-worth increases the likelihood that the cycle of poverty and abuse of girls will continue.

There are private organizations -- Girls Inc., Girls Rising, Nike's Girl Effect, UNESCO and P & G's Always Program -- as well as enlightened governments, and even villages all over the world, that see this issue as paramount to the economic and human future and survival of their communities, towns, cities, and countries. Awareness is the key and action is the solution.

We cannot afford to sit and shake our heads and make clucking noises when we read about what is going on in Nigeria. There is too much to lose for these girls, and their lives are at stake. I have granddaughters, and when I think that they are immune in the U.S. to the types of abuse and terror these girls face, I say to myself, don't believe for a minute that this couldn't happen here. It's time for us to act and make our feelings known. A thousand voices, notes, calls to the Nigerian embassy here in the U.S, or our own government representatives is needed. Tell them that we are outraged and we expect them to throw their resources behind finding and saving these girls. And then, contact and support agencies doing something globally to educate girls and their families. Take time to enlist our local communities -- contact universities and high schools, church groups, YWCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and ask them to reach out to agencies that are helping girls become educated. Spread the word... be an ambassador for educating girls.

I don't know what will become of these "Lost Girls" of Nigeria, but I do know that I won't remain silent and I will continue to raise my voice and tell anyone who will listen, that now is the time to act.

Hugging my granddaughters tight and praying for the "Lost Girls" of Nigeria

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