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SEU Students Speak at the UN

Southeastern students Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu have been featured in national headlines a lot over the last several years. They have been asked to recount the story of their abduction by the Boko Haram countless times, and their story has been told in People magazine and many press outlets. Weekly invitations pour in from TV stations, talk shows and the like. The pair even had the opportunity to meet with the President of the United States over the summer.

However, when the call came for Joy and Lydia to share their story before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), they recognized that they had a unique opportunity to use their experience for the good and jumped at the chance.

Joy explains that this particular request was different from the others. “We can use our story to make a difference.”

At the UN

The Human Rights Watch invited the students to share their memories of the Boko Haram attack on their school and their abduction in an effort to address how governments can protect education during times of armed conflict.

Joy and Lydia were among the 276 female students kidnapped by the Boko Haram from a government secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, in April of 2014. They were able to quickly escape, but to this day there are still 100 other students missing. Prominent figures around the world, including Michelle Obama, demanded action to bring back the girls and used the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to create awareness.

While in New York, Joy and Lydia participated in a panel discussion Thursday evening, October 12, at the Institute of International Education where they were joined by ambassadors from Norway and Argentina to discuss support for the Safe Schools Declaration.

On Friday, October 13, Joy spoke at the UNSC Arria Meeting, before all 15 members of the council as well as other governments and NGOs, on attacks on schools. The council’s role is to hear about pressing international issues from both UN representatives and civil society.

Jo Becker, who serves as the advocacy director for the Children’s Rights Division of the Human Rights Watch, explained, “It’s an opportunity to raise concerns with powerful diplomats at the United Nations and encourage them to take action.”

About School Attacks

Schools, students and teachers have been attacked by armed forces or armed groups in at least 30 countries in recent years. According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, these attacks on education have occurred in every region of the world.  

In at least 26 countries, schools have been used by state or non-state armed groups for military purposes, including as military barracks, weapons storage facilities, command centers, detention and interrogation sites, and firing and observation posts. Such military use of schools not only deprives children of their right to education, but in some cases, also places students and educators at risk of attack.

In recent years, the UN Security Council has condemned attacks on education. Governments have also pledged to do more to protect schools. For example, 68 governments have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, pledging to protect students, teachers, schools and universities from attack during times of armed conflict and take measures to deter the military use of schools.