My parents met at a displacement camp in Calabar, southeastern Nigeria, fleeing the Nigeria/Biafra war – a brutal fratricidal war in the late 1960s that claimed more than a million lives. My mum was 14 and my dad was in his early 20s. My mum’s education, like that of several girls her age had been violently interrupted by the war. And like several other girls, she did not have the opportunity to go back to school. She got married at 15 and the rest as they say, is history. Marriage, my mum once told me, saved her. "I was among the lucky ones. I got a husband in the midst of war – when most other girls I knew got rapists and killers," she told me. She is right. Women, particularly young girls continue to be the first and worst casualties of war. Boko Haram's kidnapping of 270 Chibok schoolgirls in 2014 is all too familiar to recount here.
I shared my mum's story at a Congressional forum at Capitol Hill on the invitation of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson on December 5, 2019 to emphasize the need for more to be done to protect and support education for refugees, particularly young girls. The forum, titled "Educate a Girl, Empower a Nation," featured Isha Sesay, former CNN journalist and author of Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram.
For many girls in war-torn societies, higher education is simply too far-fetched to even contemplate. Thankfully, there is a growing recognition that access to education, including higher education, is a right for refugees and displaced persons and therefore worth fighting for and investing in. I oversee the Bridge Program at Dickinson College, which seeks to provide educational opportunity to young people from regions of the world experiencing conflict and natural disasters and for whom higher education would be impossible. One of our pioneer students has now been accepted into Dickinson College, after earning her GED and satisfying very stringent admission standards 👍👍👍.
All they ask for is to be given an opportunity.