Karrisha Gillespie’s mother instilled a love of education in her.
Her family values education so much that they sent her away from her home in Boston to attend a boarding school, just like the parents of hundreds of Nigerian girls kidnapped from their boarding school last month.
Gillespie, a 17-year-old junior at Kents Hill School, naturally related to the girls when she heard about their plight a few days ago. More than 230 girls are still in the custody of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, which opposes “Western” education, particularly for girls.
“Everyone needs the chance to be educated, and education is power,” she said. “It really hurts me to see that people feel that they can still limit someone’s education, especially based off of their sex.”
Gillespie and fellow junior Emma Curnin, the president and vice president, respectively, of a women’s empowerment group at Kents Hill, organized a candlelight vigil at the school Tuesday night to raise awareness and offer prayers for the girls.
Last year Gillespie and Curnin, an 18-year-old from Topsham, founded the student group SHE, which advocates for the social, health and educational empowerment of women and girls.
“We did find that women tend to be underestimated, underrepresented and often mistreated, not only nationally but also globally,” Gillespie said. “We wanted to raise awareness, fight against it.”
They wanted the vigil to be a public show of support for the Nigerian girls and their families and a way to help step up the pressure on the Nigerian government to respond. The Nigerian military has been criticized for its handling of the situation.
About 65 students, faculty members and others attended the vigil, which featured a prayer offered by the Rev. Desi Larson, of Readfield United Methodist Church, and poetry readings by Gillespie and Curnin. Another student read a letter that was written by the mother of one of the kidnapped girls.
They closed the vigil by singing “This Little Light of Mine,” Curnin said.
“It’s hard thinking about these kinds of things going on and knowing that at the moment there’s not much you can do,” she said. “You’re not aware of where these girls are, but you can shed some light with the candles and some positivity, which made me feel better.”
Curnin said one student suggested creating a video and a petition to keep the situation in the spotlight.
Gillespie said their activism will continue. She and Curnin will try to convince their female classmates to skip the schoolwide morning meeting one day this week as a way of communicating the seriousness of the problem to students who didn’t attend the vigil.