Mercy, Sarah, and Deborah are some of the Chibok Girls who escaped from Boko Haram captivity last year. They now live in a small town in Oregun, USA. The three girls, another one named Grace who didn’t want to be photographed for the feature are quietly finishing their education at the Canyonville Christian Academy, a boarding school with students from more than a dozen countries.
The girls said arriving in the US seemed like they had arrived in Mars as they had grown up in deeply poor, rural villages with no Internet access and in some cases a sole landline phone for the entire village. In Oregon, everything was new: winter weather, puffy coats, remote controls, trampolines, yogurt-covered pretzels, cheerleaders, ice skating, karaoke. They spoke only a little English.
The first girl to arrive, Mercy, came this past November. School president Doug Wead recalls Mercy’s first-ever encounter with an escalator. As she stepped onto the moving staircase at the airport, she panicked and dropped her bag. That night, at the hotel, she took a bath and stayed there for hours. “Later, my wife checked in on her, and she was asleep on the bed, lying on top of the fluffy comforter,” says Wead. “Her coat was on, fully zipped.”
The girls came to Canyonville with the help of a nonprofit group in Virginia, the Jubilee Campaign, and activists from Nigeria. The girls, all of whom are Christian, live in constant uncertainty, unsure whether relatives are alive or dead, whether their homes have been burned. They keep in touch with loved ones by phone when possible amid the chaos.
In a campus lounge overlooking a creek and a bridge, Grace arrives for her interview on a Wednesday afternoon. Wearing skinny jeans and pink flip-flops, she looks like a typical American student, except for the deep anxiety on her face. Her counselor, Debbie Horton, is there with me. The Chibok girls, all 18 years old, have been meeting with the counselor since their arrival. Grace came in December with classmates Sarah and Deborah, a few weeks after Mercy. Cosmopolitan is withholding their last names for safety. Grace recently lost her brother, two uncles, and a cousin, all killed by Boko Haram.
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