Boko Haram Kidnapping Survivors Graduate College — and Prepare to 'Fight' for Girls' Education

Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu — who jumped from a moving truck as their captors tried to spirit them away to a forest hideout in 2014 — are now planning to pursue master's degrees

For Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu, their graduation from college is not just a milestone, but a triumph over terrorism.

Seven years ago, in April 2014, they were among 276 teenage girls kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram from their school in the Nigerian town of Chibok — a crime that sparked global outrage and the viral hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Bishara and Pogu escaped by risking their lives, each jumping from a moving truck as their captors tried to spirit them away to a forest hideout.

"I heard a voice say to jump," Bishara tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, recalling how she had prayed for guidance before making the frightening leap. "At first I thought that voice was crazy."

The two have been boldly moving forward ever since. On April 30, they graduated from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, an experience Pogu describes as "living my dreams."

For more on Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu's story of triumph, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Lydia Pogu and Joy Bishar
Octavio Jones
michelle obama
Then-First Lady Michelle Obama joined the social media campaign to save the girls. White House archive

They had come to America in August 2014 with the help of a humanitarian group, the Jubilee Campaign, to finish their education. After two years in high school in Virginia, they transferred to the Canyonville Academy in Oregon for their senior year, telling PEOPLE in 2017 that they wanted to use their education to help people back home in Chibok.

Now they are a step closer to that goal, with Bishara, 24, getting a bachelor's degree in social work, and Pogu, 23, in legal studies.

Pogu wants to become a human rights lawyer "to bring justice for people," she says, "because after what happened to me, I felt there was nobody that brought justice for the Chibok girls."

Bishara wants to start a community support agency in Chibok to "take in those who have been injured in a violent relationship, have been attacked by the Boko Haram, lost their property, lost their food," she says.

Now both plan to pursue a master's degree at Southeastern.

When they first arrived at college, neither knew what to expect. Bishara shared a dorm room with seven other students, and recalls how everyone kept to themselves at first. Then one night they gathered together and began to open up.

Lydia Pogu and Joy Bishar
Lydia Pogu and Joy Bishara. Octavio Jones

"That's when I told them a little bit about who I am," she says. "We all prayed for Nigeria."

One of the biggest surprises of her freshman year came when she learned her room had no kitchen — nowhere to cook her favorite Nigerian spicy noodles and rice.

"I was just not having it," she says, laughing.

RELATED VIDEO: Nigerian Teen Girls Relive Their Harrowing Escape from Boko Haram Captivity

So she got a rice cooker and "life got way better."

Living a world away from their families has been challenging, especially during the pandemic. Pogu hasn't been home since 2017, and Bishara, since 2018. They hope that one day it will be safe to visit regularly.

More than 100 of their classmates remain missing, a fact that weighs on their hearts — and motivates them to make a difference.

"Boko Haram says women can't go to school," says Pogu. "Women should be able to make decisions for their life. I want to fight for that."

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