Kachalla Bukar’s eyes filled with tears when he looked at a blue plastic basket containing his 14-year-old daughter’s belongings.
Aisha Kachalla is one of 110 girls abducted on Feb. 19 by suspected Boko Haram militants from her school in Dapchi, a dusty, remote town in the northeast Nigerian state of Yobe.
The basket contains noodles, underwear, clothes and other items her parents packed to make her life at boarding school more comfortable — before it was interrupted by men shouting and brandishing weapons.
Now those mundane items are the only connection he has to his daughter’s recent life while he and other parents wait for news.
“When we went to school on Tuesday she was not among the girls that have been found,” he said, holding up a pink dress that was part of her school uniform.
For the father-of-six, the box and its contents are keepsakes to be cherished but also a reminder of the moment he learned his second eldest daughter was missing.
“Her colleagues who have returned then gave us our daughter’s school box with her personal belongings. That was when we realized our daughter is actually missing,” he said.
The Dapchi abductions may be one of the largest since Boko Haram took more than 270 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok in 2014. That case sparked an online campaign and spurred several governments into action to try and find them.
Many of those girls remain in captivity, though some have escaped or been ransomed.
Bukar is not the only parent to hold on to his daughter’s belongings. Others hold on to photographs of their girls.
Alhaji Audu Danga, 50, sat outside his mud house in Dapchi clad in a dark kaftan and held up two dresses, one pink and one blue, which were used to distinguish school attire and home clothing for the students.
His missing 20-year-old daughter Falmata Audu is among the oldest of the school’s 906 students. Most are between 11 and 19.
A Reuters team passed a military checkpoint, put in place following the attack, to enter the empty compound of the Government Girls Science and Technical College.
Empty single storey buildings containing classrooms and dormitories were spread across the sprawling site, interspersed with skeletal trees sprouting from red soil.
Messages daubed on walls, blackboards and rows of empty bunk beds provide a glimpse of school life while missing ceiling tiles in a dusty classroom hint at the poverty that is rife in northeast Nigeria.
Amina Usman was one of the girls who escaped the jihadist group whose name roughly translates as “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language widely spoken in northern Nigeria.
“I thought I will never see my parents or family again alive. I thought that was going to be the end of my life,” she said.
“I don’t want to return to that school again, except if I get transfer to another place. I am scared, even if the government provide security.”