It's been a full year since 300 schoolgirls were taken from their classrooms by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The militant Islamist group kidnapped the students from their school in Chibok, a town in the northeast of Nigeria. After their capture, many leading officials, celebrities, organizations, and people from all over the world campaigned for their return using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. They have yet to be released, although some of the girls have since escaped. To date, around 219 are still unaccounted for—many of whom have presumably been forced into Islam and married off, made to fight, or used as sex slaves.
Malala Yousafzai, who after her own school-related attack is particularly attuned to the terror of being a girl trying to get an education in the Middle East, released this letter on the eve of the April 14 anniversary:
To my brave sisters, the kidnapped schoolgirls of Chibok,
On this first anniversary of your captivity, I write to you with a message of solidarity, love and hope.
My name is Malala. I am a Pakistani girl your age. I am one of the millions of people around the world who keep you and your families foremost in our thoughts and prayers. We cannot imagine the full extent of the horrors you have endured. But please know this: We will never forget you. We will always stand with you. Today and every day, we call on the Nigerian authorities and the international community to do more to bring you home. We will not rest until you have been reunited with your families.
Like you, I was a target of militants who did not want girls to go to school. Gunmen shot me and two of my friends on a school bus. All three of us survived and are back in school. Now we speak out on behalf of all girls about the right to get a proper education. Our campaign will continue until you and all girls and boys around the world are able to access a free, safe and quality secondary education.
Last July, I spent my 17th birthday in Nigeria with some of your parents and five of your classmates who escaped the kidnapping. Your parents are grief-stricken. They love you, and they miss you. My father and I wept and prayed with your parents -- and they touched our hearts. The escapee schoolgirls my father and I met impressed us with their resolve to overcome their challenges and to complete their high school education. My father and I promised your parents and the girls who had escaped that we would do all we could to help them. I met Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and urged him to work harder for your freedom. I also asked President Jonathan to meet your parents and the girls who escaped the kidnapping, which he did a few days later. Still, in my opinion, Nigerian leaders and the international community have not done enough to help you. They must do much more to help secure your release. I am among many people pressuring them to make sure you are freed.
There are reasons for hope and optimism. Nigerian forces are re-gaining territory and protecting more schools. Nigeria's newly-elected president, Muhammadu Buhari, has vowed to make securing your freedom a top priority and promised his government will not tolerate violence against women and girls.
"You will have the opportunity to receive the education you want and deserve. The Malala Fund and other organizations offered all your classmates who escaped the kidnapping full scholarships to complete their secondary education. Most of the escapee girls accepted this scholarship and are now continuing their studies at a safe boarding school and with the support they need. We hope to someday extend that same scholarship to all 219 of you, when you return home.
Remember that one day your tragic ordeal will end, you will be reunited with your families and friends, and you will have the chance to finish the education you courageously sought. I look forward to the day I can hug each one of you, pray with you, and celebrate your freedom with your families. Until then, stay strong, and never lose hope. You are my heroes.
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