From kidnapped Chibok girl to University Graduate

Last week, Mary Katambi graduated university degree in accounting.

It was a beautiful day, and like any graduation day it was full of joy and excitement about the future. But it was particularly special for Mary and her parents, in part because at one point her parents were not sure if they would ever see their daughter again.

That’s because Mary, 24, was one of the girls kidnapped from Chibok School seven years ago.

The Attack

Mary was always a good student. As a 16-yr old in Chibok State Secondary School, she studied hard and showed lots of promise. Then, one night in April 2014, the school was attacked.

Mary recalls the story. Around bedtime, thirty men burst into the dormitory and gathered all the girls – 276 of them – together. The men were strangers, and they didn’t look like members of the village. Some were as young as eighteen. They informed the girls they were from Boko Haram.

It was a terrifying time. The attackers forced the girls out of the school and told them to keep moving, then they set fire to the building. “We were so afraid,” Mary remembers. “They were carrying big guns, the kinds that soldiers use.”

The girls were forced into trucks, which were then taken to the Boko Haram hideout. “It is a very big forest with very big trees. I have never seen those kinds of trees in my life. We were all thirsty and hungry.”

As soon as they arrived, Mary started planning her escape.

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The Escape

Some of the girls were told to cook, and during dinner, Mary met with a group of other girls from her village. They all agreed to find a way to escape by running into the bushes. Mary paired up with her friend Deborah.

With so many girls, it was hard for the soldiers to keep track of them all, but the soldiers began to notice that a few had gone into the bush. Arguments ensued among them about who would follow the escapees, and during the commotion Mary and Deborah sneaked away.

The two girls weren’t noticed. They walked for hours, exhausted and hungry, until they finally stumbled upon a hut, the home of a Fulani woman and her children. She fed them, and gave them directions to the nearest village – so they walked some more.

At the village, they used what pocket money they had to hire a taxi, who drove them for some hours. Eventually, the driver got scared, and left them in another forest. From there, the girls were forced to walk again, and again they finally found another hut. Here, finally, they were given a place to sleep.

In the morning, their hosts gave them breakfast and showed them the road. Walking again, Mary remembers going through three different villages that had been destroyed by Boko Haram. At last, in the fourth village, they met a man who gave them a ride on his motorcycle to Chibok, and their families.

The news of their escape was astonishing. Mary’s mother broke down in tears, thanking God for her daughter’s safe return, but it was bittersweet for the many other parents whose children were still in captivity.

Years later, Mary was able to study abroad in Italy, and has now finished her degree in accounting through the American University in Yola, Adamawa State. Mary’s father Katambi was overjoyed on her graduation day: “Honestly, I never thought that my daughter would come out of the hands of Boko Haram...I never imagined that my children would ever study at [University], because I am just a peasant farmer, trying to care for my family. But God did it.” Mary’s mother Saratu feels the same: “This joy is from the depth of my heart. I never thought I would see Mary again...Yesu na gode – Thank you Jesus!”

Following Mary’s escape, her and her family, as well as the families of other kidnapped girls, were provided with encouragement cards and trauma counselling from Open Doors.

To this day, 112 of the Chibok girls remain in captivity.

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