A number of the fathers of the over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by terror group Boko Haram from Chibok, Nigeria, have spoken out about the continued dangers their families face on a daily basis, and shared their pain of not knowing what has happened to their daughters.
Kristin Wright, director of advocacy for relief group Open Doors USA, told The Christian Post in a phone interview on Wednesday that she was able to meet with 10 of the Chibok fathers during a recent trip to Nigeria. She revealed that despite the grim situation their families find themselves in, the fathers are refusing to give up hope that one day their daughters will return to them.
"One of the fathers, when asked, 'Where do you think your daughter might be?' he said, 'She is the hands of God.' It was a sentiment that was echoed by all of the parents that I met with. They are not going to think about any other reality," Wright told CP.
The Christian schoolgirls were kidnapped in April 2014 during a Boko Haram raid on Chibok, and there have been reports that many of them have since been married off to jihadists.
The Nigerian military has said it is doing everything possible to find them and reunite them with their families, but so far the parents have little to no information on the fate of their daughters.
Wright said that despite the media attention on Chibok, the region remains under heavy threat by the Islamic militants.
"In Chibok, the situation has only gotten worse. You would think that with the media spotlight on the issue, things would have improved in this area, but unfortunately the security issues are still very intense. These fathers, they see security issues on a daily basis, they are trying to protect their own families from the onslaught of Boko Haram," she continued.
Some of these men even reportedly sneak out at night to be the first line of defense against Boko Haram, and to protect their families.
"There is a constant fear that Boko Haram will attack again," the Open Doors advocacy director said.
"The challenge to international organizations is that Chibok is incredibly dangerous to reach. All the roads that are leading to Chibok, it is incredibly risky to drive on those roads because of Boko Haram."
The Chibok girls are only a fraction of the many other women and girls Boko Haram has kidnapped throughout Nigeria. The militant group, which has been launching attacks since 2009 and has killed close to 20,000 people, has aligned itself with the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria, and has adapted many of its practices.
Wright said that despite the initial media focus on the kidnapped Chibok girls last year, the families are disappointed that there has not been further help from the international community.
"These families, in many cases, feel incredibly forgotten by the international community, because there is sort of this one moment of media attention, and then most of these families remain in an incredibly isolated town," without much information and with little security, she said.
"So many people forgot about it. After it happened, and the #bringbackourgirls campaign, it sort of drifted out of the international spotlight, and there was definitely this sense from the fathers that the situation hasn't changed for them. Their daughters are still missing, there is still urgency."
Open Doors has been one of the few NGOs providing direct help on the ground to the Chibok families, and to other victims of violence throughout northern Nigeria. The relief group has been reaching out with trauma counselings for the grieving parents, and has also been providing much needed basic supplies.
A number of the families in Chibok have found themselves on the brink of financial disaster, as many of their food supplies have been destroyed by subsequent Boko Haram raids.
President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to eradicate Boko Haram from Nigeria, and his army has been battling hard the Islamic militants throughout 2015. Wright said that the fathers have hope that Buhari will be successful in the end.
"They feel hopeful about the new president, hopeful that he can make a difference in the area," she said.
"I also did see the reality on the ground, and the fathers attested to this, that Boko Haram is being pushed back in many areas."
At least 150 Boko Haram militants were killed in heavy fighting in the Madagali and Gwoza areas on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.
Self-defense fighters said that they recovered guns and explosives from the terrorists that could have been used to launch another large attack, like the many bombing operations Boko Haram have carried out in the past few months that have killed hundreds.
U.S. President Barack Obama also promised Buhari during a visit to the White House in July that America will continue aiding Nigeria in its battle against terrorism.
Obama pledged $5 million in funding to Nigeria's military, and praised Buhari's integrity, saying that the Nigerian president has "a very clear agenda in defeating Boko Haram extremists of all sorts inside his country."
Wright asserted that great challenges remain in Chibok, however.
She noted that many of the fathers are Christians, and have been looking to their faith to give them hope and courage through these dark times.
"I can see personally from spending a day with these men the toll that the kidnapping of their daughters has taken on their lives, and the lives of their families. One man even told me, 'I would prefer to not even live my life.' But he added, 'We have to abide by the word of God, we have to have patience. God promised that all that happens is known by Him.' And he said, and most of the fathers agreed with him: 'We have faith that our girls will come home.'"
Wright added: "That's something I definitely did see — that there is hope that the girls will return one day."