ATLANTA (AP) – It pains Nigerian princess Modupe Ozolua every time she hears about the suicide bombings, killings and kidnappings by the Boko Haram militant group in her ancestral homeland.
But Ozolua feels just as troubled when the plight of survivors dealing with the aftermath of the attacks goes unheard. The princess, a member of Benin Empire in southern Nigeria, doesn’t want those victims to be forgotten.
Ozolua is taking a step toward raising awareness and money to assist displaced victims at her inaugural “Rise Above Terror” African Art Gala at the Besharat Gallery on Saturday in Atlanta. She hopes the money can help rebuild schools, homes, provide medical relief and food to help some of the millions who have been unable to leave an area with destroyed schools and burnt villages.
“When people hear about Boko Haram, you think about ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ only, but it’s much bigger than that,” Ozolua said. “Figures are being thrown around about how many people are being killed. It’s bigger than that. There are millions of people who have survived these attacks, seeing their families killed in front of them. Their lives are completely traumatized. Nobody is giving much attention to them. Our focus is on them. They should be assisted.”
“Vampire Dairies” actress Kat Graham will co-host the gala. The event will auction off African artwork including 29 paintings and 11 handmade wood and brass carvings.
Ozolua, a cosmetic surgery philanthropist, has brought aid to victims in Africa since she started her nonprofit foundation, Empower 54, in 2003. But this is first time she is holding the fundraiser in the United States, calling it a “coming out party.”
“It’s my privilege to join Empower 54 and help internally displaced persons in northeast Nigeria,” said Graham, who is of Liberian descent. “The horrors of IDPs losing their loved one’s possessions and rendered helpless does not make them hopeless.”
The Boko Haram militant group has killed and kidnapped thousands in a campaign of violence in recent years as it seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country of 170 million people that is divided almost equally between mostly Christians in the south and Muslims in the north. The Nigeria-based Islamic extremist group has forced young men to be its fighters and girls to be sex slaves or even suicide bombers.
The nearly seven-year insurgency, that has launched attacks beyond Nigeria’s borders into Cameroon, Chad and Niger, has killed at least 20,000 people, according to Amnesty International. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the violence has also displaced 2.8 million people in the region, mostly those from Nigeria. Millions more face dire food shortages.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” in the local Hausa language, in 2015 swore allegiance to the Islamic State group.
While Boko Haram is thought to have abducted thousands of people over the years, the mass kidnapping of more than 200 girls from a school in the town of Chibok in 2014 brought the extremist group to the world’s attention.
Ozolua said she wants to give underprivileged children in Nigeria a better option. Last year, the princess said her event in Nigeria raised $100,000. She hopes the gala on Saturday can produce more than $400,000.
“A lot of the children there are resentful and hurt,” Ozolua said. “If we do not start giving them a reason to have self-worth, and get past this hurt, then someone will give them another direction to point to. Money will be applied to those camps. We have to continue to rebuild schools and provide books so they can have something positive.”
Ozolua attended college in Los Angeles and traveled much of the country. But she chose Atlanta for the fundraiser after hearing about the work of MedShare, a medical supply recovering organization in suburban Atlanta.
The princess said she also felt good about bringing her efforts to Atlanta because of the established Nigerian community and the presence of a consulate general. She doesn’t have an official sponsor, but has several partners for the event including the city of Atlanta, the Andrew Young Foundation and the Nigeria High Consulate in the city.
“We are a global city with a large diaspora of people from different communities and cultures,” Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall said. “Atlanta’s legacy in the movement for civil and human rights compels us to partner on issues such as this.”