Don’t let the critics bring you down. That was the essence of the message two young Nigerians had for President Donald Trump at a recent meeting in the White House.
The two girls know a lot about turmoil and despair. Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu were among 276 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, by Boko Haram militants in April 2014. The pair were among dozens who managed to escape in the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping, jumping from trucks after the Islamist militants rounded them up and tried to bring the girls to their forest hideout. But while more than 150 have escaped or been freed, 113 of the so-called Chibok girls remain in captivity.
Bishara and Pogu met with President Trump and his daughter Ivanka at the White House in late June; a visit timed to coincide with the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking around the world. The leader of Boko Haram—which means “Western education is forbidden”—claimed shortly after the 2014 kidnapping that the girls would be trafficked at market or married off to the group’s fighters.
Both Trumps were “deeply moved” by the visit of the girls, according to a White House press statement released Thursday. The Nigerian pair recently graduated from Canyonville Christian Academy, a boarding school in Oregon. They were originally brought to the U.S. in August 2014 by a Christian NGO in Virginia, the Jubilee Campaign, according to an interview the pair gave to People.The pair are due to attend Southeastern University in Florida this fall and have a crowdfunding page to help fund a visit to their parents in Nigeria this summer, which has raised $7,000 so far.
During their visit, the two girls read a letter to President Trump, urging him to uphold America’s national security as an example for other nations in the world. The White House published an extract of the letter, which reads:
“Mr. President, we urge you to keep America safe and strong. We know that some people are trying to discourage you. Do not be discouraged. You are right to keep American [sic.] safe and strong. Not only for America. But for the world. If American [sic.] is not safe and strong, where can people like us look for hope, when there is danger? Finally, we urge you to keep making America prosperous.”
The visit was not publicized widely in advance, although a picture of the two girls alongside the president, Ivanka Trump and several other people appeared as the White House Photo of the Day on its Facebook page on June 28.
The president of Canyonville Christian Academy, Doug Wead, told NPR that Ivanka Trump had reached out to him to set up the visit. Wead is a prominent conservative commentator who has published several books, including one titled Game of Thorns: The Inside Story of Hillary Clinton’s Failed Campaign and Donald Trump’s Winning Strategy.
The kidnapping of the Chibok girls sparked a worldwide publicity campaign under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, publicized by, among others, then-first lady Michelle Obama. A New York-based organizer of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign group, R. Evon Idahosa, told NPR she was “not exactly sure what the intent of the meeting” between Trump and the girls was. She also called upon Trump to do more to publicize the plight of the Chibok girls remaining in captivity.
The U.S. president spoke to his Nigerian counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari, in February in a telephone call, during which he expressed support for the possible sale of attack aircraft to the West African country. The Obama administration had put the sale on ice due to human rights concerns and indiscipline by the Nigerian military, including the accidental bombing of a refugee camp in Rann, northeast Nigeria, that killed more than 100 people in January.
Boko Haram has been waging its insurgency against the Nigerian government since 2009, killing tens of thousands and displacing millions. While Buhari has claimed on several occasions that the group is finished as a fighting force, Boko Haram—which has ties to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS)—has carried out at least 50 attacks in 2017 alone.