Bring Back Our Girls, and Give Them More

UNICEF/NYHQ2007-0515/Nesbitt

Over the last few days, outrage at the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls from their school has spread far beyond Nigeria. Protests are taking place all over the world, social media is inundated with calls to “Bring Back Our Girls,” and UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown and A World At School are launching an initiative to make 500 schools in Northern Nigeria safer. The most deafening cries are coming from the families of the girls, who set their daughters on a path to a future of possibilities and are now praying for their safe return.

The kidnapping of these girls has put a spotlight on one of the enormous obstacles facing children in many countries as they pursue education. Every child should be able to learn in safety. But in countries with armed conflicts or terrorist groups, children and families often have to choose between safety and a chance at learning.

This is one of many challenges. Extreme poverty, lack of infrastructure, poor health care and nutrition, a shortage of teachers, low expectations—all of these things are conspiring against the world’s most marginalized children.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Lagos, Nigeria, and visit a school of more than 600 girls. What I saw there is also worthy of our outrage. During the hour that morning I was there, I walked from classroom to classroom, and only found one with a teacher. The 14- and 15-year-old girls in that one classroom were learning the difference between simple and complex sentences.

These conditions are outrageous, but by no means uncommon.

Globally, 250 million children will not get the education they deserve—education that will allow them to become active members of a community, to break the cycle of poverty, to pursue a future of their own choosing. More than half of those children will attend school at some point, but their schooling will be so short-lived or so ineffective that they will leave without basic literacy and numeracy skills.

What was most heartbreaking about that visit in Lagos, for me, was hearing from one girl about the hour and a half she spent traveling to school every day, and the hour and a half she travelled back home.

Her determination to get an education should be met with our determination to give her one.

My hope is that our collective global outrage lasts long after these girls return home, which we are praying so fervently they do. Because there is so much more that they need from us.

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