Students rally for kidnapped girls
WILMA MCCORKINDALE AND TESSA JOHNSTONE
Students from 35 New Zealand high schools are uniting to campaign for the return of 276 Nigerian school girls kidnapped last month.
More than 300 students were kidnapped on April 14 by Boko Haram gunmen who stormed the girls' school while they were sitting exams, sparking international outrage and calls for the Nigerian Government to force their return. Fifty-three students subsequently managed to escape.
The New Zealand schools are today protesting the kidnapping, part of a campaign for the students' return started by Dunedin Columba College student Caitlin Addison.
She set up a Facebook page on Monday, calling on fellow Kiwi students to join her campaign. The page now has more than 1000 members.
Addison said she believed it was important for New Zealand students to show solidarity with their Nigerian counterparts.
"I set up the page because I was concerned for the situation in Nigeria," she said.
"I think even though New Zealand is so far away there is still an opportunity for us to participate and to try encourage action to be taken.
"I don't think I can make any comment on how these girls are personally feeling because I have never experienced anything as horrific as this.
"I can only imagine how traumatic things are for, not just the girls, but their families. That entire community back in Nigeria is really suffering and that's just really upsetting to hear."
Addison said New Zealand 35 schools from Auckland south, had connected to her campaign which includes staging a school ribbon day either today or in the next few days.
"We're encouraging students to wear white and green ribbons [the colour of the Nigerian flag] to school," she said.
"We have an individual in each school encouraging students to get involved."
Addison believed that eventually the Nigerian government would succumb to worldwide pressure and take action to have the girls released by their captors.
"We want to show the Nigerian government the entire world is watching," she said.
"We really want to see action taken. We want to see change made."
Columba College principal Elizabeth Wilson said Addison's initiative was seeing students organising and running the campaign.
"We're very proud of what our girls are doing," she said.
"It's growing tremendously and the school is supporting it quietly in the background."
In Wellington, hundreds of protesters, including a large contingent of students from girls' schools, marched through the central city to be greeted by a number of MPs on the steps of Parliament.
Wellington Girls' College student Dawape Giwa-Isekeije said New Zealanders had a responsibility to stand up for those unable to stand up for themselves.
"This is a cause that should be close to everybody's heart," she said.
"It's not okay anywhere in the world for anybody to be denied education in such a disgusting and harassing way."
Labour leader David Cunliffe told protesters the kidnappings had brought us "face to face with the real nature of evil" and the incident beggared belief.
"It brings home to us just how precious is our life in New Zealand, and may it enlarge our hearts and our actions so we can contribute to building a more peaceful and just world."
Labour's foreign affairs spokesman and former aid worker David Shearer said the kidnapping highlighted the fight against terrorist groups like Boko Haram.
"It also highlights the conditions that bring about some of those extremist organisations - the inequality that in a sense gives birth to it," he said.
"I believe that is another issue we need to be addressing as a world community."
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