By Roger Thurow
Aboke, Uganda – At St. Mary’s secondary school for girls, lessons literally grow on the trees.
Philosophical statements and encouraging aphorisms, painted in white letters on green pieces of sheet metal, hang on the trees that ring the central courtyard: “Trees make our environment beautiful”; “Be proud of your school and environment”; “Learning to know is my dream and pride.”
Then there are the lessons of basic humanity:
“Promote your rights.”
“No Justice, No Peace.”
“If we promote peace we shall make a difference in the world.”
These are the lessons of Aboke for the world.
Before the recent abductions of the schoolgirls in Nigeria by the marauding forces of Boko Haram, and the global campaigns of outrage (#BringBackOurGirls) that have followed, there were the raids against schools and villages in northern Uganda by the ruthless followers of warlord Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, who captured children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves. One night in October 1996, the kidnappers barged into some of the dormitories of St. Mary’s and fled with 139 schoolgirls.
One of the nuns at the school pursued them deep into the bush. The kidnappers had also stolen bags of candy and snacks from the school; the trail of empty wrappers led the way to their camp. The Sister demanded the return of the girls, but the leader of the abductors insisted on keeping 30 of them. She was told that if she persisted on the return of all the girls, she would leave with none; they would all be killed. So 30 remained in the bush; most of them eventually escaped.