Last year, Elizabeth Cologne was flipping through a copy of Smithsonian magazine when she came across a piece detailing efforts by the American University of Nigeria (AUN) to rescue and educate young women looking to evade the Boko Haram terrorist group. “I read the story about Dr. Margee Ensign, the president of AUN,” Cologne says. “It consumed my waking thoughts for days.”
She decided to turn those thoughts into action and contacted her brother, Tim Cologne, co-owner of Vicki Marsha Uniforms, a Huntington Beach, California, school uniform wholesaler. Tim noted that the company had surplus uniforms in its warehouse and quickly agreed to donate them to AUN.
AUN is based in Yola, a city in northeastern Nigeria. For the past decade, that part of the country has been a battleground between Boko Haram and the Nigerian army and local police. Thousands of civilians have died in the conflict, and others have been driven from their homes. The education system has been torn apart — more than 1 million children have no schools to attend. And according to Amnesty International, approximately 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since the beginning of 2014, with many targeted because they were attempting to attend school.
AUN has bravely stepped into the danger zone, sending tutors into remote areas and providing basic literacy education in Yola and other cities in the region. It has launched a literacy project using notebook computers and local Wi-Fi networks and created a refuge for young women on its main campus in Yola. Ensign says that teaching them to read and do simple math will improve their job prospects and help keep them out of the clutches of the recruiters for terrorist groups. And as for the uniforms, they’re an important part of helping provide the young women with a much-needed sense of community.
The next step: Find a company willing to ship 1 ton of uniforms to AUN. After checking with several suppliers, Tim Cologne connected with FedEx, which agreed to airlift the uniforms. “At FedEx, we take global citizenship very seriously and continually look for ways to make responsible and resourceful connections,” says Nathalie Amiel. “We were happy and proud to help with such a unique and well-deserved effort.”
Ensign is extremely grateful for the donation. “It’s wonderful,” she says. “The first group of children to receive the uniforms will be those in our Feed and Read program.”
Meanwhile, the Colognes are thrilled that the uniform donations can help AUN and support Ensign’s work. “I wanted to work for her in any capacity possible,” says Elizabeth. “Whatever I can do for her cause might free up some of her time, so she can go out and do more great things.”
To learn more about AUN and its foundation, go to www.aunf.org.
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