Boko Haram kidnapping survivors forge new paths after graduating from Southeastern University

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Joy Bashara is quick to crack a smile.

Lydia Pogu can recall every moment from the night that changed her whole life.

Courtesy Joy Bashara

They are both newly-graduated from Southeastern University in Lakeland.

They also escaped the Boko Haram kidnapping in 2014 in Chibok, Nigeria.

Nearly 300 girls were taken in the middle of the night from the boarding school.

They were being driven away in trucks when a car in the caravan got stuck in a pothole.

Bashara remembers making a deal with God.

“If you let me live Lord, I am yours for life. Just please don’t let these people take me away,” she remembers.

In another truck crammed with kidnapped teenage girls, Pogu prayed too.

Courtesy Lydia Pogu

“I believe it was God that was telling me to jump out,” she said.

The women had heard of Boko Haram before coming face-to-face with its members that night.

It had been terrorizing villages, burning down buildings and stealing children.

“If you’re more educated than they are, then they’re threatened by it,” said Bashara.

Pogu and Bashara were two of the 57 girls who escaped by jumping out of the moving trucks.

“I had to make the decision if I wanted to jump out and die or go with these people. My choices were die or go with them. Not knowing what they would do with me, I chose to die,” said Bashara.

After running to safety, the girls wanted to keep learning but were afraid.

“When we got kidnapped by those people, they did tell us that we shouldn’t go to school, like wherever we are, they’re gonna find us. So I was under the impression that even if I come here, they’re gonna find me’,” said Pogu.

Rep. Fredericka Wilson, a Democrat from Florida, visited the girls and offered them an opportunity to attend high school in America.

After some consideration, they moved to Virginia for their freshman year and graduated from a high school in Oregon.

Then, they received a scholarship to attend Southeastern University in Lakeland.

“It was a lot of stress, crying, hard classes,” said Pogu. “It was an opportunity we will forever be grateful for.”

This weekend, Bashara received her bachelor’s degree in social work.

Pogu graduated with a legal studies degree, with plans of going to law school.

Both women will stay at Southeastern University for grad school.

“Hopefully to be able to start a nonprofit agency in Chibok where I will be able to help those who are in need,” said Bashara.

While moving to the United States came with a culture shock, there is one thing that stands out as Pogu’s favorite American value.

“People have more freedom of like, Ok, you choose what to do. You have the voice. The government can hear your voice but back there, people don’t have the voice,” said Pogu.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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