Cruelty at the hands of extremists is nothing new. But the horror sweeping social media after news of the incomprehensible kidnapping of 276 girls in Nigeria for simply going to school has touched the world's collective nerve.
Behind the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag are young women who just shy of a month ago were likely considered lucky by their peers. In a world where over 57 million children are out of school, Nigeria accounts for over 10 million of those kids -- a population equivalent to that of the state of North Carolina. One in every three children of school going age in Nigeria will never have the opportunity to step foot in a classroom and only a third of children in primary school will move on to junior secondary school.
The implications of continuing with the status quo are devastating. As Raj Shah, administrator of USAID said this week, "when the rate of literacy amongst girls is 20 percent, you can't have a stable society."
Nigeria's neighbors aren't faring much better. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 23 percent of poor girls in rural areas complete a full course of primary education and almost all countries in the region are poised to fail meeting the Millennium Development Goal of providing universal primary education by 2015.
This current crisis sheds light on the sorry state of education -- a commodity whose importance is paid great lip service as its implementation in places where it is needed the most continues to suffer. Millions of displaced students waking up this morning in Congo, South Sudan, Mali, Somalia, and the Central African Republic -- just to name a few African countries -- won't have the opportunity to step foot in a classroom today, tomorrow and quite possibly ever.
This is nothing new. Uganda, the country in which I work, is no stranger to the livelihoods of young women and men being threatened in a traditional place of refuge. The Lords Resistance Army, under the command of Joseph Kony, was notorious for abducting children en route or while at school and forcing them into fighting on his behalf or becoming sex slaves. It is estimated that Kony abducted 66,000 children during the height of his terror -- 66,000 children that should have had the chance to go to school.
Enough is enough.
The most powerful weapon humanity will ever wield in the face of extremism is an educated child. And the beauty is that an education is one of the most practical, cost-effective investments money can buy. Yet in 2012, only 1.4 percent of humanitarian aid in the world was allocated for education while 774 million adults worldwide remain illiterate.
This is the greatest shame of our time.
Access to a safe, quality education must be at the forefront of the international agenda. World leaders, local communities, NGOs and more must work together to reduce gender disparities, raise enrollment numbers and ensure that learning takes place in the classroom. Education is humanity's insurance against the kidnappers in Nigeria, Boko Haram, and the growing litany of extremists wishing to deny young women and men their basic human right to learn.
Tweet your dismay. Post it over Facebook. Share it on Instagram. Continue adding a voice to the chorus demanding world leaders exert their influence to release the schoolgirls so heinously kidnapped, but don't stop there. The world needs far more.
Lend your voice to an organization supporting universal education. Make a modest contribution and invest capital in the business of an enterprising mother in the developing world. Write your local representatives and ask them to support the replenishment campaign of the Global Campaign for Education and USAID's education efforts abroad. Get behind the work of NGOs clamoring for more work to be done in support of children's rights and ensuring equality for some of the most disenfranchised. Channel your frustration into passion and help ensure no girl, and no child for that matter, ever feels threatened within the walls of a classroom.
In the thick of this graduation season, we must ensure the caps and gowns of tomorrow have students to don them without fear or fret. We must bring back our girls, and we mustn't stop there.