Far From Home, a Nigerian Nanny Prays for Her Kidnapped Cousin

Lorinda Peretshehu escaped turmoil in Nigeria and found a haven in Israel. But now, her cousin is in the hands of Boko Haram.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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This file photo taken from video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network on Monday, May 12, 2014, shows the missing girls alleged to be abducted on April 14.
This file photo taken from video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network on Monday, May 12, 2014, shows the missing girls alleged to be abducted on April 14.Credit: AP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

RISHPON – In this upscale community just north of the city of Herzliya, one woman is following developments in Nigeria with a particular sense of dread. She may very well be the only person in Israel with a direct and personal connection to the Christian schoolgirls abducted last month by Islamic Jihadists, whose whereabouts are still unknown and whose plight has drawn international attention.

Lorinda Peretshehu’s first cousin is one of the close to 300 teenage girls attending the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok, who were kidnapped on the night of April 15 by Boko Haram, the terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria.

“My mother’s brother called me the next day and told me one of his girls was kidnapped and asked me to pray for her,” Peretshehu, who works full-time as a nanny here, told Haaretz. She said the phone conversation was so brief that he did not get a chance to tell her which of his three daughters had been taken away.

“I was crying when he told me this,” recounted the slightly built woman, speaking very softly, “and now I am constantly watching the BBC and checking the Internet to follow what’s happening. I looked to see if I recognized any faces when the video of the girls was put out, but it was hard to see because they had their heads covered. And of course I pray constantly that they will be returned to their families safe and sound.”

Peretshehu, a 35-year-old mother of two, hails from northern Nigeria, and has been in Israel since 2009. “It’s because of the crisis in my country that I am here,” she said. “The Islamists gave us a very tough time. In 2008, while we were having a meeting, a gang of Muslim youth came into our church. I remember hearing gunshots, and then they raped me. I was taken unconscious to a hospital, and that’s when I decided I had to get away.”

She came to Israel five years ago on a tourist visa as part of a pilgrimage group. When the other members of her group boarded their return flights to Nigeria, Peretsheshu decided to stay behind. Like most other asylum seekers in Israel, she has not obtained refugee status, but instead, is here on a temporary “conditional release” visa, which does not specifically grant her the right to work and must be renewed every few months.

Because of her precarious status in the country, she requested not to be photographed.

Peretshehu said she has not heard from her husband since she left Nigeria. Her two children, a boy and a girl, are now under the care of her sister.

With roughly 1,000 members, the Nigerian community in Israel is small compared with other African communities, particularly the Eritrean and Sudanese. Many, like Peretshehu, are active in Lift Up Your Head Church run by Pastor Jeremiah Dairo in south Tel Aviv. “I am the only member, though, from the north of Nigeria,” she said.

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