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SPOTLIGHT
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Wow! And thanks to you

Published on -6/23/2014, 8:55 AM

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How about some good news for a change?

Last month, I wrote about the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by a band of putative men who style themselves "Boko Haram" -- "Western Education is Forbidden." Taken in concert with the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan and the 2008 acid attack on Shamsia Husseini in Afghanistan, this latest outrage cements an impression Islamic extremists are petrified of girls and what they might become with a little education.

It is a frustrating, anger-making thing. "Make me wanna holler," as Marvin Gaye once sang.

But this time for some reason, I needed to do more than holler. I needed to take action. It seemed to me the best way to fight against people seeking to interdict the education of Nigerian girls was to help ensure that still more Nigerian girls go to school.

That led me to the Peace Corps Nigeria Alumni Foundation (PCNAF.org), a small group of Peace Corps vets in greater Washington that exists for the specific purpose of providing scholarships for Nigerian girls. I spoke to their president, Albert Hannans, verified their link to the Peace Corps, searched Lexis-Nexis for red flags. Finding none, I sent a small donation to PCNAF c/o P.O. Box 65530, Washington, D.C. 20035, and wrote about it in this space. I figured a few of you might do the same.

I was wrong. It wasn't a few of you. It was a whole bunch of you. So many that Hannans tells me the little group's treasurer is overwhelmed and it's become a welcome hardship just running back and forth to the bank. The present tally: $35,000 and climbing, a huge amount given $500 represents a year's tuition.

Or as Hannas puts it: "Wow."

"It gives us the opportunity to provide support to a lot more girls. We've had very limited resources. That has changed now."

Hannans said PCNAF even is hoping to use some of the funds to benefit the kidnapped girls themselves. He's trying to arrange that when they are released, some will be able to attend American University of Nigeria, which has a secondary school (equivalent to a U.S. high school) on its campus and, better, "a very sizable security force."

So first of all, thank you. You have done a wondrous, miraculous thing here.

W.E.B. DuBois was famously prescient when he said, "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line." Well, it seems apparent the problem of the 21st century is the problem of the gender line, men in backward places (and some not-so-backward places) working to keep more than half of humankind in its "place." One way they do this is by enforcing ignorance.

Hannans defines the lack of access to basic education as a crisis that directly affects U.S. interests. His reasoning? Ignorant places are invariably poor places and frequently also unstable places, susceptible to the appeal of loud voices offering scapegoats and easy answers. So places that otherwise might provide markets for U.S. goods become instead places needful of U.S. help -- and recruiting stations for terrorism.

Nigeria is Exhibit A, a nation of 12-year-old brides, flourishing HIV rates and scant educational opportunities. Hannans wants better for Nigeria's girls.

"We want to see them value themselves more and their abilities and their capabilities, to come out of their shells and blossom."

This is the energizing mission of his life. He is 70 years old.

There is a moral to the story: Often, the horrors of this world make us feel small, anonymous, helpless to affect change. But that is an illusion. There is nothing -- nothing -- that cannot be moved by the power of aroused people united for a righteous cause. Sometimes, the world makes you want to holler, and that's understandable. But when people take action?

"Wow."

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

lpitts@miamiherald.com

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