How two Christian and two Muslim young women went from Nigeria to Notre Dame, overcoming tragedy and trauma to show the world-changing power of knowledge
Maijidda Haruna didn't have the words to explain how cold it was.
On the day she stepped outside of O'Hare International Airport — her first time on American soil, her first time outside Nigeria, her first time being more than a few dozen miles away from her village — it was zero degrees Fahrenheit.
As each breath of Midwestern winter air froze her lungs, the 18-year-old didn't feel like she was half a world away from home. She felt like she was on a different planet.
“I called my mom, and I was just trying to describe to her how cold it was, and I didn't know how to,” she said. “I was so scared — I didn't know how I would be able to manage, and I couldn't even describe the environment to them.”
Five years later, every step of the journey that began that day for Maijidda and three other Nigerian women is nearly indescribable. They came to Notre Dame that arctic morning in early 2018 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 at Notre Dame.
For a country torn apart by religious violence — with Boko Haram waging a brutal insurgency in the northeast and a communal conflict in the country's middle region that cost even more lives — and where the value of educating girls was constantly questioned, sending four young women to a Catholic university on an unfamiliar continent was a gamble, but a risk many felt was worth taking.