The kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls in April was particularly disturbing to Okey Anyanwu, a Brooklyn Park religious leader who recently launched a nonprofit to fund education for children in Nigeria.

Children are kidnapped frequently in Nigeria, he said, and not just by Muslim extremists. Many children hawking fruit or cheap trinkets on the streets to raise money for their families are snatched for child labor or human trafficking, he said. Ditto for children living in poor villages with their parents, who are approached by people offering the children “jobs” in the city.

That’s where his nonprofit comes in. Called BIZAA, it identifies children unable to go to school because they must raise money for their families, and finds U.S. sponsors for them so they can attend school. Families are also given stipends to make up for lost earnings.

“Education is so important because there is no other way out of abject poverty,” said Anyanwu, a Nigerian who works as director of pastoral outreach at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Brooklyn Park.

The kidnapping of the schoolgirls is a horrific act, he said, and it finally “made the international community aware of what’s been going on in Nigeria for decades.”

BIZAA, which stands for Basic Institute for Zonal African Advancement, is the international mission project for St. Vincent de Paul. Launched last year, it hopes to add other partners, including churches, educational centers and businesses, said Anyanwu. Advent Lutheran Church in Maple Grove recently came on board, he said.

It also works with a religious order of Catholic nuns in Nigeria and other groups there.

In addition to the child sponsorship, BIZAA plans to open a small vocational school in January, offering programs in tailoring and carpentry, he said.

The group is starting small. So far, it has sponsored 22 children primarily from five villages in southern Nigeria. Another 33 have been identified and are on waiting lists.

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