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Nigerian communities in Texas look home in grief

May 10, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) — The large Nigerian populations in Texas are seeking to help resolve a crisis in their native country in which nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from a school by Islamic militants and more than 100 others were killed in a marketplace in Borno state.

Pastor Michael Osifo gathered his congregants Friday in a Houston suburb to address the tragedy. Augusta Ekong is working with other groups, including a Muslim organization, to hold a rally Sunday in front of Dallas’ City Hall.

“We know the Western world has agreed to help us,” Osifo said, referring to U.S. and British assistance in helping to obtain the release of the 276 girls being held by Boko Haram militants. “But that’s not enough.”

Boko Haram, which aims to impose Islamic law in Nigeria, kidnapped the girls April 15. On Monday, the group attacked a market in Gamboru, and estimates of the death toll range from 100 to 300. On Friday, British security agents arrived in Lagos to assist Americans and Nigerians in the search for the girls.

Osifo left Nigeria about 20 years ago for the U.S.

The Nigerian community in Houston has formed churches and opened ethnic grocery stores and restaurants, where they now gather and talk about the crisis.

“It burns my heart because the Nigeria I left many years ago is no more,” Osifo said.

Ekong also grew up in southern Nigeria. The strife in the north and the strict Islamic lifestyle that discourages women from getting an education is foreign to her. But like most girls, including those who were kidnapped, she went to a boarding school at the age of 12.

The thought that she could be snatched at night and taken away is frightening, said Ekong, who teaches Nigerian and African culture at schools and museums in Texas.

“Our sisters in the north are suffering, and we want it to stop,” she said.

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