In 2014, a rallying cry of “Bring Back Our Girls” swept throughout the world in response to the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria. They were captured and enslaved by terrorist group Boko Haram and forced to cook, clean, wear suicide bombing vests and were even raped by soldiers. Some of the young girls, who are now in their 20s, have been returned home, but their lives will never be the same. 

According to the The New York Times, the American University of Nigeria, a school for the children of politicians and other elites, conducted a plan to create a program for the  young women as a way of academically catching them up with their peers and to help re-integrate them with their former classmates. 

With the approval of the government, the school renovated a dormitory and provides high-level security measures that include escort services from campus. There's also a prayer room for Muslim students and a Sunday service preacher is available for Christians. American psychologist Somiari Demm joined the effort offering counseling to the young women. 

“They’ve seen hell together,” Demm told The New York Times. “They share the extensive narrative that no one else does.”

While the program is meant to help the girls take back their right to education and empower them through learning and community, Demm acknowledges that the girls are “free, but not really free.”

The girls were admitted to the school shortly after returning home, having only spent Christmas break with their families after being in bondage for four years. Women who gave birth while they were captured were not allowed to attend due to the school’s rule that mothers cannot have their children on campus. 

Another Chibok woman, Glory Dama, was alerted that her father was in poor condition. While she sought permission to leave campus and waited for an escort to be provided, he passed away. 

The girls are not allowed to speak their native languages at the university as lessons are taught in English, and most staff are not able to speak in their local languages. The New York Times reports this has led some to question the extent to which counseling and lessons are able to reach these young women. 

Meanwhile, in their new environment, some of the students haven’t taken to the young women's presence. Some were concerned that the Boko Haram may break school barriers and try to come for them a second time. Others worry that the women may have developed a form of Stockholm syndrome and grew attached to the group, becoming terrorists themselves.  

“I know I’m in a place where nobody will chase me and do something wrong to us,” said Chibok woman Rhoda Peter. “They are here to help us.”

As they settle into their new lives, they cannot help but remember that not all young women who were captured have been freed. Many are still being held hostage.

“I’m ‘back’ as they say,” Hauwa Ktakai told The New York Times. “But I’m thinking about my sisters who are still in the back.”