Fifty days after hundreds of schoolgirls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, we must maintain the international focus on their plight.
The Safe Schools Initiative, which was launched at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja, has opened a public giving portal and will dedicate its funds to making schools safe in Nigeria. It is committed to rebuilding the Chibok school that was destroyed by Boko Haram.
A new video showing the captive girls pleading for help is a stark reminder of how desperate their situation is. One girl is heard saying: “I never expected to suffer like this so much in my life.” Another says: “They have taken us away by force.” The third girl says: “We are not getting enough food.” An older, girl keeping her composure, says: “My family will be so worried.”
The video was recorded two weeks ago and there are now fears that most girls are being held in Cameroon, Chad or Niger. The fear is that few remain in the Borno forest area where they were first taken. Teams of experts are advising on possible rescue operations. And across Nigeria, families have a right to know that their children will have a safe school to study in.
To this end, the Safe Schools Initiative brings together the Nigerian business community, helped by members of the Global Business Coalition for Education and the Nigerian government. The fund already contains over $20 million, with contributions from Nigerian business leaders, the Nigerian government, the UK, Norway and other countries. Its aim is to reassure Nigeria’s 30 million schoolchildren that everything possible is being done to make their schools secure from Boko Haram – the terrorist group that wants to stop any girl going to school.
Proposals include the physical protection of schools, community liaison teams, better early warning systems in the event of attacks, and support for parents trying to keep the schools secure. Our measures draw on the experience we have gained from other conflict zones – from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Somalia and Nepal.
These plans could be implemented quickly once the fund has gained its necessary finance. We are now working with experts from all over the world – including UN agencies in Nigeria and UNICEF experts who have implemented such programmes in other countries – to develop operational strategies to start to secure the schools in the north that are most vulnerable.
There are signs that Nigeria’s youth will not be cowed by the terrorists. Late last month, several Nigerian young people, appointed A World at School Global Youth Ambassadors, declared they would step up their work for the right of every child to go to school safely.
We are working with faith communities led by Pope Francis and senior Muslim clerics, who are taking a stand against violence. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has agreed to support the observation of the Day of the African Child and he has offered support to the Nigerian schoolgirls. Members of the Global Faiths Coalition for Education – including Muslim Aid, the Islamic Society of North America and others have all condemned this attack on girls’ education. In addition, last week the International Trade Union confederation, which counts 30 million teachers among its 200 million members, issued a statement of support. Over the last four years, 171 teachers have been massacred in separate incidents in Borno state.
The international community must do all it can to bring back the Chibok girls and make school a safe place for all of Nigeria’s children.
Gordon Brown is the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and UN Special Envoy for Global Education.
Image: A vigil held for the missing girls in Abuja. REUTERS/Joe Penney