Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney On April 14th of 2014, more than 270 schoolgirls were kidnapped as they were studying
for their final exams in northern Nigeria. Most of those girls
have yet to be rescued. A few of them actually managed to escape. A few weeks after the kidnapping, the anti-human trafficking organization
that I run, “Unlikely Heroes”, was asked to bring a team
of counselors to Nigeria to provide counseling,
medical care, grief and trauma services, and everything that the escaped girls,
and many of the mothers who were still awaiting the return
of their children would need, so that they could move
forward after this tragedy. I arrived in Nigeria, and I began counseling
the mothers and the escaped girls, and I will never forget
my very first counseling session, with one of the girls
who had been so fortunate to escape. I am going to call her Precious
to conceal her identity. Precious is only 15 years old, and she started the story with me
where many victims of trauma do, at the place where they had
just been at most peace. She said that she had been in the school
and they had just gone to sleep, when they heard gunshots. Many of the girls started yelling,
“The Boko Haram are coming!” And a few moments later, they saw many men dressed as soldiers
show up at the school. Many of the girls actually thought that these were soldiers
who had come to rescue them. They told them to get
all their things together, but the girls did not have time
to get dressed so most of them were pulled
out into the schoolyard with just their underwear on, no shoes. The militants then began
to shoot bullets into the sky, and they told the girls
to get on the ground. And that is when they realised that these were not soldiers
who had come to help them. The militants then began to scream, “We told you not to go to school and we have come here
to enforce this order.” These poor girls
were kidnapped for one reason: because these were the girls
who were bold enough, and who were brave enough
to try to get an education. They knew they were risking their lives
in that part of northern Nigeria by even trying to sit
for their final exams. The militants then began
to burn the schoolhouse down, and then forced the girls
to walk several kilometers without any clothes, many without shoes, to trucks where they loaded them up for a few days drive
into the Sambisa Forest. A couple of the girls, about 10-15,
fell off of trucks on the way there, but only about six managed to escape
the prison camp at all. The girl who escaped, Precious,
told me her story, and she told me
that when she got to the camp, they saw guns everywhere. And that she waited all night long,
until the morning, when she felt that would be her safest bet
to try to run, through the forest, home. She told her captors
that she had to go to the bathroom, she waited until no one was looking,
she grabbed another girl to come with her, and they began the run,
for more than three days, through the Sambisa Forest,
to make it to safety. The girls had no shoes. By the time they actually
made it out of the forest, they were covered in thorns
up to their knees. It took them hours to take
steaming, boiling water to pull those thorns
out of their legs, one by one. One of the girls said she could not walk
for three days afterwards; her mother had to carry her. But I am going to tell you something:
as frightening as it was for those 15-year-old girls
to run out of the Sambisa Forest, the forest that they call
is filled with beasts, they know that they were
the fortunate ones. When I arrived in Nigeria, it was actually at the height
of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. The world was shouting that we would not stand or tolerate
the kidnapping of more than 270 girls. We were demanding action from governments
and from presidents, worldwide. Celebrities got involved. Globally, we used our voices, we used
our platforms, we used our social media to raise up a shout and to say,
“Bring the girls home!” Governments sent troops,
people got involved, but soon the hashtag started to wane. Soon we stopped using our Instagrams,
and our Facebook, and our Twitter. And what we noticed on the ground is that as soon as the collective
voice of us, of you and of me, and of every student and every celebrity,
cheering out and crying, saying, “We need to see
the return of these girls!”, as soon as that waned, the hope of the girls being rescued
vanished along with the hashtag. When I returned to Los Angeles,
and I began to talk to people, and I let them know of the effect
that their cries on social media had had in applying direct pressure
on the ground to see the girls returned, people were shocked. They had no idea that this cry that they had let erupt from them
to demand the return of the girls, was actually making
a difference on the ground. It was giving the families hope,
it was giving Nigeria hope, it was giving people
an actual voice of resistance, to say, “We will not let this happen.” But somehow, we did not know
the effect we were having, and I believe that is why we began
to let our voice go on the situation. Unfortunately, those girls
who are still trapped in the forest, more than 250 of them yet to be rescued, just spent Christmas
and the holidays alone, with no mother to give them a hug. This tragedy has affected
not just the girls, not just the mothers and fathers, but the communities,
the nation of Nigeria, and the world. What I want to bring
to us today is a challenge that we would start to see
the power of our voice with social media. That we would start to understand that we, us, who have been so privileged
to be born in a free society, that we have been given so much freedom and so much power with this voice
that we would have. And that we would start to awaken
to the power of this voice. But along with any freedom, any power,
it comes with responsibility. And we have to learn
that freedom of speech is a powerful thing,
and that not all change is good. We have to start to understand
that when we use our voice, and we start to aim it
at social injustices worldwide, that we can make a difference. But we also have to understand
that my right to free speech ends the moment that I yell “Fire”
in a crowded movie theater. I feel like it is really important that we start to see social media
as a new thing that we can access as a way to raise up
the collective voice of the people, to say, “We want to see injustices
end on this Earth.” Because governments can fail,
and policies can fail, but we, the people, cannot fail. And we have to start to mobilize our voice
to see injustices ended worldwide. There are 27 million people
trapped in slavery today. There are more slaves on the planet
today than ever before in history. And these people
who are trapped in slavery, these 250 girls who have yet
to be rescued have no voice. They have no way to rescue themselves. And I believe that it is up to us,
each and every one of us, to start to use our voice, and to use
our resources, and to use our platforms on behalf of someone who has no voice. Because either you believe
that freedom is for all, or you believe that freedom
is only for some. And if you believe that freedom
is only for some, then you end up with tyrannies. I believe that as we move forward,
and we start to harness the power of social media
and our free speech worldwide, that there are some keys
that we need to grab a hold of, so that the next time we see a massive human rights injustice
take place on this Earth – and unfortunately, there will be – that we will be ready to mobilize so that next time, we don’t see victims
who are still waiting to be rescued. The first thing I feel
that we have to do is just use your voice. Raise your voice. When you act, you inspire other people,
and when you start to use your voice, you are going to learn
what works and what doesn’t. Reach out, tweet
your government officials, let people know
what you are thinking about. Second of all, get educated. Mainstream media
does not have all of the answers. Do not let your voice be hijacked
by a 72-hour news cycle. Go out there, travel,
learn, read the reports, go to the source of the information,
and find out what the truth is. If you start finding out facts
that are conflicting with your emotions, let the facts determine your response. Because we have to start to understand
that the voice of the people is what, if we mobilize it properly, will actually bring long-term change. And number three, do not stop. When you find an issue
that you are passionate about, when you find out the truth,
raise your voice and figure out, “How can we actually use this? How can we mobilize people to make
sure that this never happens again?” Keep going. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Do I think that if we had kept going
with our social media outcry that these girls would be home? I do think it is a possibility. But what I know is that in the future, if we learn how to harness the voice,
and turn these whispers into a roar, and start demanding that we won’t let human rights violations
continue to happen on this Earth, we will start to see injustices end. Thank you. (Applause)