The Igbo people of Nigeria have a saying: “One cannot hear a child’s cry and say one is busy.”
On the night of April 14, 2014, radical Muslim group Boko Haram, kidnapped 300 teenage girls from their secondary school in the remote town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.
Why does this matter to me? Because my Scripps education led me to Africa where I lived and worked with young women much like those who have been abducted.
In 1972, my French teacher told our class about a new College program to study for a year at the Sorbonne in Paris. I got so excited I danced all the way back to Browning Hall; even though I had a serious boyfriend at the time, there was no way I was going to miss a year in Paris! So, in September of 1973, I went with the first group of Scrippsies (six of us) for our junior year abroad. It changed my life.
Having caught the adventure bug, I joined the Peace Corps in 1976 and got on a plane for Liberia, West Africa. After two incredible years living in the bush and working in a clinic, I received my master’s degree in non-profit management stateside before returning in 1979 for a two year stint with Save the Children working in Burkina Faso.
Living in France and Africa during my 20s refocused my world view from small town American to global citizen. And now, when the 300 girls remain unrescued deep in the jungle, my heart cries out. These girls are my daughters, too.
During my time with Save the Children, I lived in a Muslim village on the edge of the Sahara Desert. The people of Dori belong to the Fulani tribe—all Muslims—and are among the best and kindest people I have ever known. The daughters of the Fulani grew up in freedom, married by choice, did not wear veils, and lived active, productive lives. The people of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria neither adhere to nor want Sharia law.
I spent three weeks in Nigeria in 1982 doing family planning training with a team of women from the Ministry of Health. These were strong, intelligent Nigerian women with a wonderful sense of hospitality and humor; there, women run the farmers’ markets and have a great deal of economic power in the family. So, I was not surprised when the mothers of the kidnapped girls organized thousands of demonstrators to protest their government’s inaction and launched a worldwide campaign to support the rescue of their daughters.
Yes, Africa has more than its share of civil wars, child soldiers, and ethnic cleansing caused by failed governments and prolonged by world indifference – and Nigeria is a complex and troubled country. Overpopulation (174 million people in a country roughly the size of Texas) and endemic government corruption worsened by international oil companies has led to economic inequality and violent tribal and religious strife.
But they are people who, like us, cherish their children, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or economic status. They want their girls to be freed, to return to their families, to fall in love, to marry if they choose, to raise a family, run their markets and their small businesses, contribute to their economy and their culture, to dance and sing, to laugh and live a long life. The same things we want for our daughters.
Scripps gave me the gift of seeing the world. And from that experience, I learned that all the world’s children are our children, and we cannot say we are busy.
About the author
Susan Corbett graduated from Scripps in 1975 with a degree in international relations. A resident of Boulder, CO, she is the author of In the Belly of the Elephant: A Memoir of Africa.