‘I Want to Save Lives’ — How Two Nigerian Teens Kidnapped by Boko Haram Found New Dreams in America.
Late on the night of April 14, 2014, armed men burst into a boarding school in the Nigerian town of Chibok, where Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu were among hundreds of teenage girls in their beds, fast asleep. Shooting guns into the air, the men began herding the frightened girls into a group, shouting “Allahu akbar!” (“God is great” in Arabic), the telltale rallying cry of Nigeria’s ruthless terrorist group, Boko Haram. “We were all crying and screaming,” Joy tells PEOPLE. “They told us to keep quiet or else they’re going to kill us. Joy and Lydia were among the few dozen girls who managed to escape on the night of the abduction, risking their lives by leaping from moving trucks. In recent months, more than 100 girls have been released as a result of government negotiations with Boko Haram, but more than 100 girls are still missing.”
Joy, 20, and Lydia, 19, are now carving out a new life in America. With help from a human rights group in Virginia, the Jubilee Campaign, they arrived in the U.S. in August 2014, attending a boarding school for two years in Virginia before transferring last summer to the Canyonville Christian Academy, a boarding school nestled in the scenic mountains of Oregon, drawing students from around the world. After growing up in modest homes in Chibok, with no running water and no computers, both say their lives today — and the education and opportunities that lie ahead — seem like “a dream.”
Joy, whose father forbid her to have a cellphone while growing up in Chibok, was shocked to see American kids with their own phones, tablets, and gadgets. Lydia, who grew up wearing wrap skirts and traditional dresses, was surprised by all the women in pants. “When I first came here, I said I would never wear pants,” she laughs, admitting she loves her skinny jeans—if not American food. She prefers spicy Nigerian noodles to pizza or potato chips. Today, Joy and Lydia are putting their painful past behind them, and looking ahead to college. (They have a GoFundMe page to help with expenses.) Lydia hopes to become a lawyer, and is interested in helping people who have no voice. Joy wants to be doctor. “What I want to do is save lives,” she says.
The girls plan to start college at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL. this fall on full scholarship, spokeswoman Dana Davis said in an email. The university is reaching out to local churches and individuals to raise more money for the girls. Three of Wead’s children attended Southeastern, according to Davis. The girls are temporarily staying in Haymarket, Va., with Doug Wead. They say he’s like a father to them. Both of them are members of the CCA award-winning stock market team, which is a two-time national championship winner. Thanks to the hard work of Joy and Lydia and thanks to the generosity of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, both women have received full scholarships, covering room, board, and tuition.