Boko Haram Will Never Break Them: Photographing Nigeria's Schoolgirls : The Picture Show Photojournalist Rahima Gambo has been documenting the experiences of students attending schools in the midst of the insurgency. The images challenge our perception of victimhood and war in Africa.
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Boko Haram Will Never Break Them: Photographing Nigeria's Schoolgirls

Rukkaya and Hadiza often hid their school uniforms in plastic bags because they feared becoming a target of Boko Haram (left). A connect-the-dots-style illustration from a coloring book (right) published by Heineman Educational Books. Rahima Gambo hide caption

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Rahima Gambo

Rukkaya and Hadiza often hid their school uniforms in plastic bags because they feared becoming a target of Boko Haram (left). A connect-the-dots-style illustration from a coloring book (right) published by Heineman Educational Books.

Rahima Gambo

In April of 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 276 girls who were attending schools in the northeastern region of Chibok, Nigeria. The incident drew international attention to the students' plight and the extremist terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. Photographer Rahima Gambo wanted to know why students were still going to school in the region despite the ongoing possibility of other dangerous attacks from Boko Haram.

This sequence of six directed images show students from left: Aisha Ali Ibrahim (17), Aisha Abacha (17), Hadiza Mustapha (17), Amina Bashir (16), Zainab Musa Usman (19), Hadiza Alhaji bukar (17), Fatima bulama (18), Aisha Abubakar Aisami (17) and Ruth Andrews (18) of the school Shehu Sanda Kyarimi. Rahima Gambo hide caption

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Rahima Gambo

This sequence of six directed images show students from left: Aisha Ali Ibrahim (17), Aisha Abacha (17), Hadiza Mustapha (17), Amina Bashir (16), Zainab Musa Usman (19), Hadiza Alhaji bukar (17), Fatima bulama (18), Aisha Abubakar Aisami (17) and Ruth Andrews (18) of the school Shehu Sanda Kyarimi.

Rahima Gambo

Aisha Ali Ibrahim, 17, is a student at Shehu Sanda Kyarimi. She was photographed at the Maiduguri park and zoo in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in 2017. Rahima Gambo hide caption

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Rahima Gambo

Aisha Ali Ibrahim, 17, is a student at Shehu Sanda Kyarimi. She was photographed at the Maiduguri park and zoo in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in 2017.

Rahima Gambo

Originally from Yola, Nigeria, Gambo studied sociology and anthropology before becoming a photographer and visual artist. In 2015, she began shooting what would become Education is Forbidden, a visual document of students who were experiencing the terror of the conflict. Gambo visited three schools and three universities in the Adamawa and Borno regions that had been attacked by Boko Haram militants.

"I often had this feeling that I was arriving too late, and what I was capturing was often a residue — a quickly evaporating substance of a traumatic event I was asking my subjects to recollect," Gambo said.

What happens before and after war is often just as important as the conflict itself, she realized. Education is Forbidden was Gambo's attempt at explaining how the cultural identity of the people living in northeastern Nigeria was slowly being overtaken by news reports of the Boko Haram conflict.

"With each article and photo, the history of the region was being rewritten as one of violence and conflict," Gambo said. "There are some horrific things happening in my country. I can give you the facts and figures and historical info on why this is happening, but I am trying to communicate an experience, the feelings that I have gone through while being there."

"The way we tell stories in Nigeria is not a neutral thing; it comes from a certain tradition which is very different than a western one," Gambo said of the schoolgirls she began photographing in 2015. Rahima Gambo hide caption

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Rahima Gambo

"The way we tell stories in Nigeria is not a neutral thing; it comes from a certain tradition which is very different than a western one," Gambo said of the schoolgirls she began photographing in 2015.

Rahima Gambo

Gambo asked the students to share folktales and folk songs they remember from their childhood in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in 2017. Rahima Gambo hide caption

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Rahima Gambo

Gambo asked the students to share folktales and folk songs they remember from their childhood in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in 2017.

Rahima Gambo

She wanted to capture the students' education in class, but the photographs revealed what it is like to be out of school. Portraits taken at an amusement park, in a natural setting or a zoo were spaces that played important roles in the girls' collective memories. Gambo also added words from a primary school textbook that taught the "mastery of writing" through letter formation, letter shapes and letter spacing.

From left: Aisha Ali Ibrahim (17), Aisha Abacha (17), Hadiza Mustapha (17), Amina Bashir (16), Zainab Musa Usman (19), Hadiza Alhaji Bukar (17), Fatima Bulama (18), Aisha Abubakar Aisami (17) and Ruth Andrews (18) of Shehu Sanda Kyarimi at a Maiduguri amusement park. Rahima Gambo hide caption

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Rahima Gambo

From left: Aisha Ali Ibrahim (17), Aisha Abacha (17), Hadiza Mustapha (17), Amina Bashir (16), Zainab Musa Usman (19), Hadiza Alhaji Bukar (17), Fatima Bulama (18), Aisha Abubakar Aisami (17) and Ruth Andrews (18) of Shehu Sanda Kyarimi at a Maiduguri amusement park.

Rahima Gambo

"There were bombs all the time, and gunshots; sometimes I don't sleep when I remember some things," said Hadiza Alhaji Bukar, a 17-year-old student at Shehu Sanda Kyarimi. Rahima Gambo hide caption

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Rahima Gambo

"There were bombs all the time, and gunshots; sometimes I don't sleep when I remember some things," said Hadiza Alhaji Bukar, a 17-year-old student at Shehu Sanda Kyarimi.

Rahima Gambo

"By working together with the students and asking them about their earliest childhood memories, they shared memories about stories and games passed to them in the playground," Gambo added. "I wanted to excavate what lies beneath these students' present memories of traumatic events they may have gone through during insurgency."

"The way we tell stories in Nigeria is not a neutral thing; it comes from a certain tradition which is very different than a Western one," said Gambo, who was influenced by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe's stories of independence, strength and resilience. "What is crucial here is asking different questions and not expecting specific answers. That is when stories have an impact."

Rahima Gambo is a documentary photographer from Nigeria. This photography series was created for the World Press Photo Joop Swartz Masterclass.

Laura Beltrán Villamizar is NPR's Projects Picture Editor.

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