For those living in the western world, it is difficult to imagine sending one’s child to school not knowing that may be the last time you see them. For many parents in Nigeria, that nightmare has become a haunting reality in the past few years.
Saturday April 14th marked four years since Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their school – an event which sparked global outrage. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls became popular on social media and former First Lady Michelle Obama, took over her husband’s weekly presidential address to bring attention to the urgent issue.
Four years have passed since the 276 girls went missing and many parents are still left in the dark, wondering if they will ever hold their daughter in their arms again.
50-year-old Monica Stover has been awaiting her daughter Saraya’s return for over four years after she was kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. Stover told a local newspaper that initially, she didn’t believe her daughter had been taken.
“When they told me Boko Haram took my Saraya, I did not believe it because I know my daughter is strong and would find her way out.”
One of Saraya’s classmates who had also been kidnapped on that frightful day, gave Stover the sickening news that her daughter was gone.
“It was later than one of the girls who jumped out of the truck on that day told me that Saraya attempted to escape but was captured by Boko Haram.”
In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari was elected into power with the promise to put an end to Boko Haram’s insurgency. Three years later, the group is still carrying out raids and kidnappings and have destroyed more than 1,400 schools in Nigeria. The Nigerian government is desperately trying to alleviate some of the pain of those whose daughters have been kidnapped, though Stover says that she has not benefitted from this aid. Her daughter is still missing.
The militant group has claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed over 20,000 people -including nearly 3,000 teachers- and displaced approximately 2 million from their homes. The UN organization UNICEF verified that at least 1,000 young girls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram, though that number is likely much higher, stating that “the militants’ aim is to spread fear and show power.”
The words “Boko Haram” roughly translate from the local Hausa dialect as “Western education is forbidden.” The militant Islamist group continues to fight to overthrow the government and prohibit Muslims from any social, political, or educational activity associated with Western society. The group is believed to have existed since the late 1990s, though the uprising did not fully take form until 2003 when multiple police stations near the Niger border were attacked.
The most recent attack carried out by Boko Haram happened only two months ago on February 19. A faction of the group raided the Government Girls Science and Technical college, taking 110 girls, none of whom have been returned home.
Stover, like any other mother, wanted her daughter to be educated so she could have a bright and prosperous future. This warm ray of hope turned into a cold hand of tragedy around her heart as she prays every day for her daughter’s safe return. Stover echoes the voices of other parents who wait up every night in hopes that their little girl comes through the door.
“Dear Saraya, wherever you are, if you are still alive, just know that your mother is hoping to see you soon. I am always praying for you and I urge you to be strong, resilient, and patient as one day you shall be rescued and reunited with us. I love you.”