Mass Abduction in Nigeria
In her school notebook, Hauwa Nkeki writes a letter to her brother, "Dear Brother Nkeki, Million of greetings goes to you thousand to your friend zero to your enemies."
Hauwa is one of the nearly 300 girls kidnapped by 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 in Sinful” and they believe that girls shouldn’t be in school and boys should only learn Koran.
A media frenzy began and coverage of the protests was extensive. But the thing that was missing from most of the coverage is the girls themselves. I sought out connections to the families of the missing girls and photographed their items against a black backdrop.
The girls’ school uniforms were each distinct. One was made in a hurry, in messy stitching with 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.
Families sent me photographs and earrings, toothbrushes and slippers. With these images, I tried to communicate a sense of all that was missing.
This work received a World Press Award in 2015 and was widely syndicated. Media attention to this story lead to pressue on the Nigerian government to negotiate for the release of some of the girls and a renewed cycle of conflict.
Read more about my process for this work and other work on abduction on the New Yorker's Page-Turner in an interview with Teju Cole.