Five years ago, on a frigid January morning, a nearly indescribable journey began for four young women from Nigeria. They came to Notre Dame after being carefully selected by their government, shepherded by senior leaders from the United Nations and the Catholic Church, and anxiously but quietly awaited by a tight circle of supporters on campus.
For a country torn apart by religious violence and where the value of educating girls was constantly questioned, sending this group to a Catholic university on an unfamiliar continent was a gamble, but a risk many felt was worth taking. There were two Christians — Dinah Lawan and Godiya Simon — who had been kidnapped by Muslim terrorists as schoolgirls and endured a harrowing path back to freedom. And there were two Muslims — Maijidda Haruna and Laila Ibrahim — who had encountered devastating violence at the hands of Christians.
They arrived with the chance to pursue an education that could transform their lives, but also, their country hoped, be an example that could help heal their homeland. Maybe, just maybe, if this quartet could go to America and thrive, they could demonstrate all that is possible when strength is built through knowledge and community is founded on forgiveness.
“The symbolism of this was breathtaking,” said Sara Sievers, a former Notre Dame faculty member who served as a host mother to all four. “They had lost all you really can, short of their own lives. But if they could learn to love one another as sisters, then anyone can.”
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“The symbolism of this was breathtaking. They had lost all you really can, short of their own lives. But if they could learn to love one another as sisters, then anyone can.”