This month in The Rotarian, I have a story about Margee Ensign, who went to northeastern Nigeria to run the American University of Nigeria, but who became deeply involved in local efforts to deal with a refugee crisis bigger than Europe’s. The Adamawa Peace Initiative desperately needs funds, which can be donated here: AUNF. The story, Education on the Front Lines, can be found here:
In her office at the American University of Nigeria, in the dusty northeastern town of Yola, Margee Ensign heard the news: Some 170 miles to the north, nearly 300 girls at a boarding school had been roused from sleep and kidnapped at gunpoint by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
Ensign, the president of the fledgling university, was already struggling with the fallout from Boko Haram’s attacks in Nigeria’s north, which had sent a flood of refugees into Yola. Together with community leaders, including her fellow Rotarians, she had worked to run feeding programs to keep the refugees – whose number eventually swelled to 400,000 – alive.
Rotarians working with the Adamawa Peace Initiative help run the Feed and Read program, which provides a hot meal along with lessons in English and math, and the Peace through Sports program.
After the news of the kidnapping broke in April 2014, a woman who worked for the university asked to see Ensign. She sat down in the president’s office and told Ensign that her sister had been one of 58 girls who had escaped that night by jumping out of Boko Haram’s trucks and running into the bush.
Ensign quickly began contacting those girls’ families to offer them a place at the university, which also houses a high school. In the end, 27 girls decided to come, and on 30 August – four months after the raid – Ensign prepared to head into the heart of the conflict to pick up the girls.
“We were going into dangerous territory,” says Lionel Rawlins, the university’s security chief. “We were going into Boko Haram’s backyard to snatch the girls. The morning before we left, we went to the police and said, ‘Are we ready?’ And they said, ‘We’re not going. It’s too dangerous up there.’ So I went back and told Margee we were on our own. We looked at each other, and I knew exactly what she was thinking. She said, ‘If you’re up to it, I’m up to it. Let’s go get the girls.’”