Once An Activist, Always An Activist

QueenVirtuous
Posted May 16, 2018 from Nigeria
Girls Celebrating The New Technology Workshop Centre
Girls Having A Group Discussion
Girls Having A Group Discussion (1/7)

Telling this story is hard and will always be hard. But trust me, it ends well. By sharing, I hope to stir up courage in others to share theirs and find themselves again. I have heard many stories about the abduction of people in my country and have even commiserated with and actively advocated for the release of abductees. Little did I know that I was to experience it too.

 

An Ill-fated Day

About this time in 2017, I was busy with an assignment. Preparations were already underway for a women’s technology workshop that I was to host at the computer lab of the co-operative college campus. The workshop was about women in technology, accessing digital resources sites like Free Basics, and participating in women's social networking sites like World Pulse. 

Only 20% of the students at the college are female, and there are no courses in technology. There is a bias against the advancement of women in technology in this community due to ignorance and poverty.

Nothing had been done to sensitize the indigenous people about the benefits of women in technology or empower those women who may have an interest in STEM literacy until I began visiting the college a few years back on invites to speak about writing.

Very early on the morning of this ill-fated day, I arrived at the venue of the workshop. The computer lab is at the far end of the campus premises, and there is an uncompleted fence surrounding the campus.

Eight young joined me there to sweep the lab and clean the chairs while I set up the projector. We were expecting about 20 more women.

 

They Barked My Name

A van pulled up. We had arranged with some tech guys from the college to provide technical support, so we thought it was their team who had just arrived.

The driver and one other guy told us that we couldn’t use the computer lab due to some electrical faults. They suggested we used the chapel instead and offered to set us up there quickly. We agreed.

We drove to the chapel area which is further back within the premises. There were thick shrubbery and trees in the backlands.

As we were offloading the tools from the back of the van, suddenly masked men descended on us and ordered us into the back of the black van while they gathered our belongings into a large rucksack.

They barked out my name and said, “We’ve been looking for you, Wonder Woman. We’re going to shut you up!”. Cold shivers ran down my spine. I knew this was about my advocacy campaigns for gender equality.

They bundled us into their black van.

 

Over Two Weeks In Captivity

I was able to help five girls escape. They got furious. I desperately begged them, again and again, to let the other girls go since it was me they wanted. They did let the other girls go, unharmed.

I couldn’t weep because I was in such shock, breathing so hard and so rapidly from fear. My mind was racing, and I was half dead just thinking what they were going to do to me.

I was held captive in a windowless empty room for over two weeks. The details are horrific. But not a tear could drop. Not until I came back home in Abuja with my family was I able to break down and weep. And even now, I still have nightmares, and I still break down and cry.

 

Free At Last

My captors had gotten a tip-off that soldiers were in the area looking for kidnappers. So they hurriedly bundled me into their minibus and drove out into the thick bushes again. They stopped somewhere, brought me out, made me lie down on the ground and pressed a gun into my mouth. I waited. Was it my end? Like this?

The leader barked a retreat. I was left there on the floor, and they drove off. I don’t know how long I lay there. The fear of being shot in the back of the head was indeed paralyzing.

After a while, I summoned the courage and got up. I walked for miles. The soldiers saw me first and put me in their vehicle while reassuring me that I was safe again.

I cannot adequately describe to you how abstract the condition of being “safe” feels after such an experience. I passed out.

 

Twice Shocked

Back home with my Aunt in the city under medical care, I kept to myself the details of what had happened from my visitors because I could see the excitement in the eyes of the girls whenever they visited and I didn’t want to quench it again. I needed closure, but the girls needed me that very instant. So I did my best to inject humor into our discussions.

The manhunt was not a rescue mission in search of me. No one had believed I was still out there, and out of fear, no one wanted to press the issue. No one wanted to risk a rescue mission because I was only visiting the area; I didn’t live there, and I wasn’t a native.

Over the following months, as I recovered, all the women involved in that technology workshop came to visit me and told me how my ordeal had stirred the entire community and neighboring communities as well into action. The kidnap had brought to their attention two main things namely, the bias against women in technology and the lack of adequate security in the region.

This development revived my enthusiasm. It hadn’t all been for nothing.

But the authorities called me a liar and an attention monger and told that it must have been an old lover of mine on a personal vendetta. They said my abduction had nothing to do with gender equality advocacies, and that I was paid to pull the stunt by the rival political party to make the government look bad. They wanted to hear the salacious details just to entertain themselves.

I was twice shocked.

Sunshine After The Rain

When I was a bit stronger, I tried to host the second session of that workshop with the girls in a hall used for wedding receptions. I provided ten laptops, Wi-Fi, a projector and some refreshments. I was afraid that nobody would want to associate with me because of what had happened, just like some of my close friends had done.

But there were almost 40 girls in attendance. They had so much fun. I promised them I would return to hold the last session of the workshop.

Tired and weak from the emotional and physical trauma, I went back home to my mother in Abuja to be alone for a while and to rest and recover some more, laying low as per counsel from experienced international women’s rights activists. I’m especially grateful to the women at World Pulse who empathized with me and consistently sent hugs and kisses in their emails to me.

Since I had missed an entire session in school due to injuries and dire financial straits, I had a lot of spare time on my hands to plan my next move. Soon I got back to work, square-faced, to channel my pain into positive energy and transmit change into the lives of these young women with whom I had already developed a bond.

Many months after that second session of the workshop, I traveled back to that community.

I held a series of meetings with community leaders and some retired soldiers. I carefully helped them understand the importance of affording girls and young women the opportunity to pursue STEM education and careers in the tech sector. I spoke about my dream of starting something with the girls for free (as an individual for now until I’ve registered my NGO) to close the gender wage gap and create more well-rounded females.

They were very receptive. Projects kicked off for the women of that community.

Currently, two 50-seater women empowerment centers are under construction close to the barracks. A retired soldier donated the land. Some good-natured community members and leaders, as well as the social elite, are among the volunteers. There have been donations of building materials, money, a free 24-seater bus, computers and other electronic tools among other things. The work is slow because volunteers are few and funds are short. However, even though the buildings are as yet incomplete, classes for women of all ages are held there strictly for women empowerment programs. Nobody cajoled the community volunteers into the building. It was their idea.

The only thing the authorities did in response to my abduction was to complete the fence surrounding the college campus.

Conclusion

Have you ever been abducted? If you’ve ever faced danger in your work with women, if you’ve ever felt lonely or felt like giving up, I know what how feels. Recovery isn’t easy, and your feelings are valid, but please don’t shrink. You’re not alone. You’re not a liar. You’re not a loser.

Take a break, unplug, and practice self-care. Above all, master the art of resilience and refuse to let whatever happened to you drown your voice.

This post was submitted in response to Share Your Story On Any Topic.

Comments 17

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Olutosin
May 16
May 16

Congratulations. I am so happy that you were released unhurt. Thank God. You are such a strong woman. I was so scared until I got to the end of the story. Congratulations again. Do strange. May God continue to protect you. Amen

QueenVirtuous
May 16
May 16

Darling Olutosin,

I'm sorry but..... I was hurt actually. Very hurt. I just don't want this to be about me. I want this to be about the girls.

Your message is very heartwarming. Thanks for reading. Almost as though you were there with me. The fear you felt, I felt it too. Worse.

But the ending of this story is just worth celebrating. Thanks for celebrating with me! You are yourself an inspiration. Love youuuuuuuu!

Olutosin
May 16
May 16

Ohhh.... I am so sorry. I know that you want it to be about the girls. Yes I can see it in the way you highlighted theirs..... I truly wish that I could hug you gor long minutes.

I love love love love you my friend and sister. Can you please inbox your postal address to me. I create treasures in Lagos and I want to send a treasure to you. It will be a symbol of my love for you.

I treasure you my darling sister. I hold you dearly in my heart. You inspire me.

Prayers and love from me to you.
Love and Light,
Olutosin

QueenVirtuous
May 16
May 16

Awww dear Sis, I really needed those hugs. Thank you so much! I don't think I can thank you enough! I'll respond in your inbox in a bit. God bless.

Olutosin
May 16
May 16

God bless you more my sweet Angel. Waiting. I will send it by Friday. Through God is good motors.

QueenVirtuous
May 16
May 16

Ese pupo, Mami! My respects.

coolasas
May 16
May 16

Hello Queen,
This is a very personal story and selfless at the same time because you highlighted the positive outcome of a very negative experience.

I wish you a good continuation of your endeavors ... we all have our stories to tell and every story has the same value that's why it needs to be shared.

Godspeed.

QueenVirtuous
May 16
May 16

My dear Coolasas,

Turning straw into gold, that's what resilience is all about. And I'm so glad the girls had developed some resilience too. And yes, it's so true that every story is valuable. Indeed, priceless.

Thank you for reading my story and for the warm prayers. Love you loads!

Wow, Queenie:( I'm so sorry for all that you had to endure. I feel so horrible for what you had to go through, and for what. What do those power mongers hope to gain by doing this? Surely, such as the case with Malala, that it's only going to make people more determined for positive change. I so wish I could make this right for you and heal your wounds. It truly hurts my heart. You're such a good person with such an amazing mission and gifts. I am happy to hear, though, about the two empowerment centers. I hope to hear more about the progress soon. Did you see my post about the Roddenberry Prize? I think you may have to have a registered NGO, but you could look at the prize criteria: https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/jlanghus/resources/85590.

Let me know how I can help, as always. And, I actually agree with what that bully (insert more appropriate word here) said. You are Wonder Woman:-)

Thanks for sharing your photos of your students... too cute:)

QueenVirtuous
May 17
May 17

Darling, that part about the bully had me rolling! Thanks for making me laugh!

Thank you for the time you remained my friend even when I was too shaken to speak to you as usual. I cherish you so much, my darling. You kept knocking on my door and I think it's part of what helped me snap back quicker.

I'll check out the post in question right away.

You are truly an Encourager. Love you! Kiss kiss!

You're welcome. I'm glad you get my off-beat humor. Not that many do:)

I'm glad that I helped you, hon:)

XOXO

QueenVirtuous
May 17
May 17

XOXO

Molly Gates
May 17
May 17

Thank you for sharing your powerful story. You are incredibly brave and resilient for all you have been through and for refusing to let this experience take your voice and power. I do hope that you can continue to take care of yourself and to find the support you need while doing so much for others.

QueenVirtuous
May 17
May 17

Oh, Molly! Darling, I've missed you so much! Feels so great to be back here.

Thank you for reading my story. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for standing by me back then. You were a great comfort to me at the time it happened. More than I can say. All you did for me? I will never forget. You're one of the reasons I came back stronger and wiser. Love you so much.

Yes, I'm making sure that I'm taking care of myself too. You're right on that one. I tend to bury myself in work so much I forget myself, much to my own detriment. But yes Ma'am, I'm learning and doing it better. Resting a lot. I'm also staying close to my support group.

You are a wonderful leader, Molly. You were mother to us all in that workshop. Working with you is an experience I'll never forget because I cherish the memory so much.

It's real nice speaking with you again. I thought about you the whole time. XOXO

Molly Gates
May 17
May 17

It is so wonderful to be in connection with you again as you have been in my thoughts many times over the past months. It is so wonderful to see you here, sharing your bravery and strength! You are an inspiration.
I am also happy to hear that you are reminded to take care of yourself and to lean on your support system.
Thank you for such kind words, they are precious and deeply meaningful.
Keep shining your special light and know that you are thought of often. Sending a hug from across the globe. :)

Hello, dear sister QueenVirtuous,

I could not keep my tears from falling as I imagine you had gone through such traumatic experience. The scene where the gun is placed on your mouth was frightening. I only see that in the movies, but it happened to you. And how awful that after that unjust treatment you were told it was not true. I want to hug you right now.

Thank you for your courage and selflessness. That circumstance did not stop you from helping women, instead you triump over it causing more women to step forward and join you in your advocacy. I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!

You write so well. I look forward to reading more of your stories. Thank you for sharing and for inspiring. May God's love, grace and protection be upon you in everything you do.

Love from the Philippines,

Karen

Hello, dear sister QueenVirtuous,

I could not keep my tears from falling as I imagine you had gone through such traumatic experience. The scene where the gun is placed on your mouth was frightening. I only see that in the movies, but it happened to you. And how awful to know that after their unjust treatment you were told it was not true. I want to hug you right now.

Thank you for your courage and selflessness. That circumstance did not stop you from helping women, instead you triump over it causing more women to step forward and join you in your advocacy. I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!

You write so well. I look forward to reading more of your stories. Thank you for sharing and for inspiring. May God's love, grace and protection be upon you in everything you do.

Love from the Philippines,

Karen