SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn't that hard for Erin Page to imagine that one of the 300-plus Nigerian girls who were abducted from their school by Islamic extremists was her own niece.
"These are someone's nieces, someone's daughters," she said. "If something like this happened here in Utah, it would be an outrage, it would be insane. So the fact that it took 20 days for most of the world to hear about this is just not right."
So Page and friend Brittany Plothow, who heard about the mass kidnapping via social media, decided to act, organizing a rally in front of the Utah State Capitol Saturday to raise awareness of the girls' plight. Around 30 Utahns, including many originally from Nigeria, gathered to sing and chant: "Bring back our girls!"
"These girls are my sisters," Plothow said. "Yeah, I'm here in Utah and they're in Africa, but I'm a global citizen. These girls are my sisters, they're my daughters, they're my friends and I can't live in a world where stuff like this happens and we don't do anything about it."
The girls were kidnapped by extremist group Boko Haram. The group's leaders have threatened to sell the girls and it is believed some have been forced into marriages.
The Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, only accepted help from nations hoping to aid in the search this week, although the Associated Press said help was offered as early as April 16.
"We want enough pressure put on the Nigerian government to see these girls are safely returned to make sure these girls are brought home to their loved ones," said Murtala Atta, who moved to Utah from his native Nigeria in 1999.
He and Andy Iheanacho are both active in the Nigerian Association of Utah and wanted to attend Saturday's rally in support of those missing in their native country.
"As a father it makes me angry," Iheanacho said. "Words cannot describe. It's a terror against humanity (and) we need to speak up and stand."
But the Nigerians in attendance also wanted to show their support for their fellow Utahns who cared enough to organize the demonstration.
"It's worth it for me to come here to come support my people," Florence Ojo said. "If people here are coming out to support us, then why not join them?"
Page said she watched a Google Hangout featuring women from Nigeria. The more she learned about what was happening, the more she felt she had to do something.
"I remember sitting in my bed crying, going, 'This should not happen,'" she said. "It's not something that should be an issue. We should be able to go to school and not fear."
Plothow said Utah's culture lends itself to caring, to the idea of a greater human family. She said their goal was to raise awareness and to do what can be done here to help those there.
"Sex trafficking happens everywhere and we need to talk about it more," she said. "It shouldn't be 300 girls that go missing before we start talking about it and it shouldn't be (ignored because) they're in Africa, so we can't do anything about it."
Bobbie Lewin, of Salt Lake City, attended the rally because she said she is passionate about ending violence against women and because she recently traveled to Uganda to help girls there attend school.
"When I saw this I started to think about those girls, the girls I know personally, and could this happen to them. And of course it could," Lewin said. "This isn't just about bringing back the girls from Nigeria. Yes, we want them rescued, but we need to end violence against women from all over the world."13 comments on this story
What is happening with these girls and to their families is "devastating," Atta said. Ojo described it as "extremely painful."
Iheanacho said it is disheartening to have the Boko Haram wreak such havoc in the country. But there was some happiness and some beauty in the way those in Utah banded together.
"It brings me joy to see a lot of people come out in support," Iheanacho said. "It gives me not only joy, but faith in humanity — that people care all over."
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