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SDN 2015 Call for Entries Honorable Mention

Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls

Glenna Gordon | Nigeria

Chibok girl's school uniforms. One was clearly made in a hurry, in messy stitching and different color threads. Another one was well made but utilitarian – probably stitched by the girl’s mother.

Another dress was especially dirty and threadbare. Maybe the girl was going to wash it tomorrow. Maybe she couldn’t afford soap and was waiting until she could. It’d been stitched again and again at the sides – torn and repaired, probably the only uniform she had.

In April 2014, nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped from a remote village in Northern Nigeria by the Islamic jihadi group Boko Haram. Despite global outrage, little has been done by the Nigerian government to bring them back. These images are of their school uniforms, books and other objects - the things they left behind, the last traces, and the only way we can see the missing girls.

In her school notebook, Hauwa Nkeki wrote a letter to her brother: "Dear Brother Nkeki, Million of greetings goes to you thousand to your friend zero to your enemies." On another page, she lists the names of her friends who are "good" girls, "stupit,” and "on top table" — the very best.

Hauwa is one of the nearly 300 girls who were kidnapped by the Islamic militants Boko Haram on April 14 from their school in Chibok, a remote village in Northern Nigeria. Boko Haram’s name translates roughly to “Western Education is sinful.” The group believes that girls shouldn’t be in school and boys should only learn the Koran.

For the past few years, Boko Haram has been burning villages to the ground, using forced recruitment and carrying out an ongoing insurgency. Thousands have died and the region has been devastated. No one took much notice before the girls were kidnapped.

In May 2014, a hashtag campaign (#BringOurGirlsBack) became viral on Twitter and swept the globe. Within a week, it had attracted over 2 million tweets. A media frenzy began and coverage of the protests was extensive. But the thing that’s been missing from most of the coverage is the girls themselves.

When I set out to cover the story, I arrived in Nigeria’s capital Abuja with a plan. I met people from Chibok living there. I learned a bit of Kibaki, their dialect of Hausa (the language spoken in Northern Nigeria), and I greeted them with their own greetings, listened to their stories, and built relationships. Through this network, I coordinated a team of people to collect items belonging to the girls from their families. Within days, I managed to receive several school uniforms and other items.

In a makeshift photo studio in Abuja, I honored these girls the only way I knew how to: I laid out their uniforms and notebooks on a black velvet backdrop. I could smell them, feel them, and see them. I felt like I was holding ghosts.

When I first photographed the objects and notebooks belonging to these girls, it was just a couple of weeks after they'd been abducted. Now they've been gone for months, and more girls and boys have since been abducted.

Photographing the girls’ school uniforms make them real, distinct individuals. One was made in a hurry, with messy stitching and different color threads. Another was utilitarian. A third uniform was especially dirty and threadbare. It'd been stitched again and again at the sides—torn and repaired, probably the only uniform she had.

Hauwa Nkeki draws pictures of the solar system, writes the dates of the solstice and equinox, and copies the word "eclipse" again and again. Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped her, does not believe in modern science or Western learning.

Of course, the girls are missing from my photos too. Since we can’t understand the things we can’t see, the goal of this body of work is to make the missing girls visible.

 glennagordon@gmail.com

+19493387592

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