‘They Called to Us to Come Closer’: An Interview with a Chibok Girl Who Escaped

By Carl Hill

Photo by Carl & Roxane Hill
One of the Chibok schoolgirls who escaped from Boko Haram after the April 2014 abduction, has been sheltered by a Nigerian Brethren family.

On the night of April 14, 2014, Hauwa was in her room at school when she heard voices outside. When she looked outside she saw soldiers coming toward their dormitory. “They called to us to come closer,” Hauwa recalls. “When we got closer to the men, they asked us where our teachers were. When we told them that our teachers were staying in town, they wanted us to show them where the food was being stored. It became clear to us that these men were not soldiers but Boko Haram. We were all very frightened. Before we realized what was happening, they began shoving us into cars and driving us away.”

Hauwa went on, “We were driven some kilometers to a large clearing. In the clearing were large trucks. Many of us were taken from the cars and loaded onto these trucks. No guards rode along with us in the back of the truck. We were part of a long line of vehicles. When we saw that the cars coming behind us were not driving that close, we saw our only chance of escape. As our overcrowded truck drove through a very wooded area, my friend Kauna and I jumped. We ran until we found an area of dense trees and bushes. We hid there until all the vehicles had passed by. We got up and ran in the bush and got away without being seen. We slept in the bush and finally made our way back to Chibok to my uncle’s house. A few days later, my father came and took me back to our village.

Hauwa is a very lucky young woman. She had been attending the Chibok secondary school for the last three years. She was close to graduating before her life was turned upside down on that fateful night last April. Her father knew he could not let his daughter remain in the Chibok area. It was too dangerous. So, at first, he sent her to Yola in southern Adamawa State, where it is relatively calm. She was enrolled at American University of Nigeria, a university which had taken in other “Chibok girls” who had somehow managed to escape from the Boko Haram.

However, Hauwa’s father did not feel that his daughter was safe in Yola. In July of last year, he contacted Paul and Becky Gadzama. This caring couple, long-time members of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), had been working with a few of these special girls and arranging passage to the United States, where the girls would be safe and their education could be resumed. Both Hauwa and her friend Kauna were taken to the Gadzamas’ home. While waiting for the necessary paperwork to be completed, the girls received training in English and other studies to prepare them for school in the US.

Unfortunately, Kauna’s paperwork was completed first, and Hauwa’s ran into some snags. Kauna is in the US, and Hauwa has been left behind until matters can be straightened out. Hauwa misses her best friend, but she has been anything but idle. Last summer she met with Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, who was making a worldwide appeal on behalf of the Chibok girls. Together they traveled to Spain where Hauwa spoke about her ordeal to a large gathering at a human rights convention.

In Feb. 2015, Hauwa and her father were invited to the capital city of Abuja for the Nigerian premiere of the movie “Selma.” Hauwa and her father were asked to come up front before the movie started. The audience gave them a standing ovation. “As the crowd cheered for us it made me very happy. I could see that it made my father very happy, too,” remembered Hauwa. “It was a big thrill.”

Hauwa’s story is not yet complete. When asked about the whereabouts of her fellow students, she said she does not know where they are. “Nigeria has forgotten about my classmates. Nobody is thinking about them anymore. Our soldiers are freeing many towns and destroying many members of the Boko Haram, but we do not know what is happening to the other girls that have been taken.”

When Hauwa’s father went home after the “Selma” premiere, Boko Haram attacked his village again. It was reported that her older brother was killed in this raid. She has not heard from her parents since then. “Since the network is down there is no way to talk to them by phone,” Hauwa stated. She is very upset because she does not know if her parents are alive or dead.

Despite all the things this attractive 18-year-old woman has gone through over the last year, her future still has a bright side. She is looking forward to joining her friends in the US when her visa is finally approved. Then, when I asked her about any boyfriends, the whole house erupted in laughter. Everyone started teasing her about a certain boy. However, “I’m a free agent,” said Hauwa. Our time together ended with laughter.

— Carl and Roxane Hill are co-directors of the Nigeria Crisis Response of the Church of the Brethren in cooperation with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). For more about the crisis response go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis .

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