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Andover woman sets out to help Nigerian girls

  • MEMBER EXCHANGE ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND OF MAY 31 - JUNE 1, 2014 - In this May 16, 2014 photo, Thea Shapiro, director of religious education at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Andover, Mass., holds an origami dress, one of over 300 she has folded, in honor of the kidnapped school girls in Nigeria. (AP Photo/Eagle-Tribune, Mary Schwalm)

    MEMBER EXCHANGE ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND OF MAY 31 - JUNE 1, 2014 - In this May 16, 2014 photo, Thea Shapiro, director of religious education at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Andover, Mass., holds an origami dress, one of over 300 she has folded, in honor of the kidnapped school girls in Nigeria. (AP Photo/Eagle-Tribune, Mary Schwalm)

  • MEMBER EXCHANGE ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND OF MAY 31 - JUNE 1, 2014 - This May 16, 2014 photo shows some of the over 300 origami dresses which Thea Shapiro, director of religious education at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Andover, Mass., has folded in honor of the kidnapped school girls in Nigeria. (AP Photo/Eagle-Tribune, Mary Schwalm)

    MEMBER EXCHANGE ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND OF MAY 31 - JUNE 1, 2014 - This May 16, 2014 photo shows some of the over 300 origami dresses which Thea Shapiro, director of religious education at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Andover, Mass., has folded in honor of the kidnapped school girls in Nigeria. (AP Photo/Eagle-Tribune, Mary Schwalm)

  • MEMBER EXCHANGE ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND OF MAY 31 - JUNE 1, 2014 - In this May 16, 2014 photo, Thea Shapiro, director of religious education at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Andover, Mass., holds an origami dress, one of over 300 she has folded, in honor of the kidnapped school girls in Nigeria. (AP Photo/Eagle-Tribune, Mary Schwalm)
  • MEMBER EXCHANGE ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND OF MAY 31 - JUNE 1, 2014 - This May 16, 2014 photo shows some of the over 300 origami dresses which Thea Shapiro, director of religious education at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Andover, Mass., has folded in honor of the kidnapped school girls in Nigeria. (AP Photo/Eagle-Tribune, Mary Schwalm)

Thea Shapiro couldn’t erase the haunting image of hundreds of innocent schoolgirls in Nigeria being kidnapped by an Islam extremist group last month.

So, the Andover, Mass., artist paired her talents with her socially conscious mind set and went to work thinking about how she could help the more than 200 girls, ranging in age from 12 to about 18, from thousands of miles away.

“I just knew I wanted to do something,” said Shapiro, who herself has a daughter in college. “I don’t want people to forget about them. I can’t imagine how scared, how terrified those poor girls are.”

Her answer has taken the shape of nearly 300 carefully folded origami dresses – one for each girl who was abducted. Each dress, crafted out of colorfully printed paper, has been numbered and named after the first names of girls found in a Christian book.

“I used first names only, because using last names might be harmful to the girls, and I couldn’t take that chance,” she said. “I am very worried about the girls, like a lot of people.”

Pictures of the dresses are posted on Shapiro’s Facebook page that she created as part of her campaign. Called “Remember the Girls,” the page asks visitors to keep the Nigerian schoolgirls in their hearts.

It’s been over a month since the kidnapping, which happened at a school in the isolated village of Chibok in Nigeria’s far northeast corner. The girls were kidnapped by extremists who want Boko Haram members released from prison, according to news reports. About 30 U.S. State Department officials are among the rescue team members who are now in Nigeria searching for the girls.

A popular local arts teacher, Shapiro said she loves “all things girly” like pretty dresses and has been doing origami art for about two years, so the project was a natural fit.

Shapiro has taught at Esperanza School and Essex Art Center in Lawrence and is currently leading a class at the Boys and Girls Club in Lawrence.

She also works at Unitarian Universalist Church on Locke Street in Andover as director of religious education and is studying to be an interfaith chaplain using the arts as a way to connect to the world. She and her husband, David Grober, have two children, Katja and Eli.

Shapiro said she wants the “Remember the Girls” Facebook page to be a place that people can visit to remember, to pray or to just think about these girls. Visit it at facebook.com/rememberthegirls.com.

On Wednesday, May 14, one month after the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls, Thea Shapiro left a prayer on her “Remember the Girls” Facebook page and asked others to do the same with a prayer or words of love and support, in their own words or in the words of their religion.

“I know it is only a prayer, but maybe one day when the girls are returned home we can share these words with them,” she wrote.

Shapiro’s prayer to all the Nigerian schoolgirls went like this:

“May you find the strength to go on. May you be safe. May you know deep down that you are loved, that you are being searched for, and that we hold you in our hearts. May you be brought home soon.”

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