Social media has played a pivotal role in forcing the hand of the international community to get involved in the search for more than 270 girls who were snatched by militants from their boarding school in Chibok, north-eastern Nigeria, on the night of 14 April.
A Nigerian lawyer’s tweet marked the starting point of the now global campaign #BringBackOurGirls issue onto the global agenda. Interesting also is a group of Ghanaians who have created a social media platform to have other Ghanaians joining the fight for their Nigerian sisters.
Akua is one of the three individuals who set up the #bringbackourgirls Ghana social media campaign and is also an active member of the #bringbackourgirls campaign in Washington DC. Akua is very passionate about having the girls rescued and she believes what she does for the abducted Nigerian school girls has more to do with who she is and what she believes her purpose on this earth is.
Akua G. Asare is a Psychiatrist based in Washington DC in the United States of America.
Que: You are a Psychiatrist by profession, so you are aware of traumatic events and what effect such has on victims. Is that why you are actively involved in the #bringbackourgirls campaign?
Akua Asare: What I do for these girls has more to do with who I am and what I believe my purpose is on this earth. ‘Medicine, Psychiatry’…they are tied into the essence of who I am and not the other way around. Psychiatry is a channel for my beliefs and what I think I’m called to do on this earth. And it gives me distinct tool kits that enable me to interact and engage with that world in unique ways. So I am even more acutely aware of the damage that is occurring right now in the lives of those young girls
Que: What do you imagine or believe is happening to these girls right now? “The damage” as you put it.
Akua Asare: The damage can be psychological, emotional, and behavioral and even physical trauma
Que: Can you explain it further?
Akua Asare: There are multiple layers to what has happened. The most obvious is that of physical trauma.
It is known that Boko Haram routinely abducts, rapes and then returns women back to their communities. Rape comes with horrific psychological, emotional and behavioral trauma. It strips a woman of her sense of security, safety, worth, value and causes self-esteem issues.
So the levels of trauma from rape are so many. Then, you add the trauma of being abducted! Of being taken from a place of safety and dumped somewhere else, and your future not determined. What is expected? What are the new roles you will be assigned? There is a total shift in thought and behavior once you are placed in this new, terrifying situation.
The sense of abandonment, the fear and fear cripples you know? It paralyzes individuals subjected to it. Your emotions are in a whirl – fear, anger, sadness, dread. They are all present at all times. Your mind and body go into “crisis” mode which, when prolonged, causes neurochemical changes that lead to changes in thought patterns, behaviors and emotions.
Que: Just so we establish this fact, there is no information currently available that shows these particular Chibok School girls have been raped by members of the Boko Haram. Is it not a bit premature to suggest that in your submission?
Akua Asare: The probability is high. That some of them have experienced sexual assault. And mind you, sexual assault is not just the act of sex.
Que: What forms of sexual assault do you imagine they might be exposed to?
Akua Asare: Well there is verbal taunting, there’s unwanted touches, there is unwanted groping…there’s being forced to engage in oral sex – fellatio. These are all possibilities. As you said, I am not there.
Que: Okay. Now back to the point you were making about the neurochemical changes.
Akua Asare: When humans are in crisis mode, they tend to go into one of these patterns of behavior. When your mind perceives danger, it releases neurochemicals that allow you to go into one of these modes.
For example, your sphincters for your rectum and your bladder tighten up so that if you need to fight the opponent or you need to run, you won’t be dealing with having to void or have a bowel movement. More blood is directed to your legs to enable you to run if necessary.
These are all natural responses – increased heart rate to pump out more blood, increased awareness to surroundings etc.
Now these were not meant to be our normal responses but they occur in distinct moments when we are in danger.
The hyper vigilance, sense of anxiety, of needing to move, for example – all of these are behavioral changes that come in moments of danger. When those are prolonged, behavioral patterns are developed. So it’s possible that some of these girls, when they are returned, will exhibit behavior that they had during this abduction.
Que: What do you imagine is the Boko Haram’s motivation?
Akua Asare: Other than evil?! Notoriety – a sense of entitlement that they are “important” enough to get the international community’s attention. That they are capable of doing such a thing and successfully, mind you, ISa tremendous ego boost and power surge.
Que: Many rights have been infringed upon. The first lady of the United States of America Michelle Obama for instance was particular about their right to education in her address last week. Which is of most critical concern to you as an individual? Is it their right to education, religious freedom, healthcare or some other?
Akua Asare: The right to be human!
Que: One can say mishaps are part of being human.
Akua Asare: And so are compassion, kindness, joy, laughter, light, peace and harmony
Que: You sound like a gender activist or a child’s right advocate. Which do you fall under? A feminist perhaps..?
Akua Asare: I have never called myself a feminist, or gender advocate, or child rights advocate. I am someone who cares for humanity. That’s it!
I only want leaders to handle their business and be accountable to the people who put them there!
Que: I want us to go back to why you are active on the campaign. You are not Nigerian. You are a Ghanaian resident in Washington DC. How did this become any of your business if I may ask?
Akua Asare: I am active in this because it struck an angry chord in me. When I first read about it a couple days after it happened, it sounded like something ripped from The Onion (an online American parody newspaper). It made no sense whatsoever but I figured that the girls would be found. I heard they were and then I heard that they were not. I was appalled.
It was unbelievable. How could nearly 300 people be abducted and NO AUTHORITY was doing anything about it?
It boggled my mind. It blew my mind! “This is not supposed to happen” I said to myself.
The large-scale nature of such a crime led me to look deeper because I have discovered that people do not do such things unless they have been getting away with other “smaller” things.
And I realized that this “Boko Haram” that I had heard ‘bandied’ about in the media every once in a while was a horrific hydra of an entity.
It went from obscure to front-line in my mind. I was angry and I felt as if I could do nothing. I am not someone who enjoys the sense of futility – of hopelessness. So I started looking around for something that I could do.
Que: So what was your first act of concern?
Akua Asare: I started tweeting and facebooking about the situation. And I heard about a rally happening on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial here in DC. I went. I was asked to speak. I did. And then there was another rally at the Nigerian Embassy. I was there. I tweeted from there. I kept up and still keep up with the news about the situation. I repost whatever I see about it that I believe will bring continued light and awareness to the situation because I don’t want it to be forgotten.
But think about it! A plane disappears and half the world is looking for it. A ferry capsizes and the world’s eye is on it. Nearly 300 girls disappear and there was silence in the international community. That pissed me off. So I thought, if the international community would not do anything then we would bring light to the situation.
Que: I understand it is frustrating to know that the abduction happened exactly a month ago today. But is it fair to blame the delay in taking action toward a rescue mission on the international community?
Akua Asare: I always wonder how much of a crisis is on the international community and how much is on the country. I know that the US offered Nigeria help earlier on and Nigeria rejected them. But we needed to get a campaign going. To exert more pressure…
Que: Apart from your activities in the USA you are also one of three individuals who set up the #bringbackourgirls GHANA Facebook page. Tell me about it.
Akua Asare: As far as BBOG-Gh, I became involved because some of my friends in GH saw my posts and photos and reached out to me just to chat. We talked and I encouraged them to go ahead and do whatever they felt they could to shed light. And from there, was created BBOG-Gh.
Que: How far is the team willing to go on this cause?
Akua Asare: We started this campaign, purely, to show our support as Ghanaians and fellow Africans for the return of the girls. We will not stop until the girls are returned. And we believe that this has the potential to be a powerful platform for further societal awareness and change.
Que: I think it is quite amazing what you are doing for these young ladies but what do you expect of the Nigerian government and other world leaders who have just gotten involved in the search for these young girls?
Akua Asare: All I want is for them to do is:
• Find and return the girls to their homes
•Ensure that upon return, they receive all the services they need – medical, psychological etc to help them process this horrific incident. These services and the processes should not be rushed. The authorities should provide it to them for as long as they need them.
• The families must get help processing this as well. They too will be needing help to heal from this unfortunate incident.
• We need the Nigerian government to crack down on Boko Haram! I want to see them do what they were placed into office to do – to protect their citizens and ensure that they are living in a safe, productive, healthy environment.
Not to mince words, I need the Nigerian Government to BE AND DO what their citizens voted them in power to do.
Que: Any message to the victims of the abduction when they get rescued?
Akua Asare: My dear ones, I wish I could explain why this has happened. I wish I could have prevented it. But I can’t fulfill that wish. What I can tell you is that I am proud of you. I am proud of you for living – each and every day – because it would be easy to give up. And I love you. I am doing what I can to get you out. And I will do what I can to make sure when you do get out, that you know you are loved.
Interview By: Juanita Sallah/QuestGH Network