The grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building were a sea of red Sunday afternoon as people from all walks of life -- but especially mothers -- turned out to support efforts to find nearly 300 abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria.
Organizers asked attendees to wear red as they called on the Nigerian government to redouble its efforts to find the girls, who were taken from their schools by terrorist group Boko Haram last month. The kidnappers said they took the girls to protest western education in Nigeria and they were going to sell the them as brides.
"I have a daughter and if anything were to happen to her, I'd be heartbroken. I can't even imagine what the mothers in Nigeria are feeling after losing their daughters," said Cherilyn Orum, as four-month-old Lilith cooed in her car seat.
"It's so sad. Getting an education shouldn't be something that's wrong. Everybody should want to get an education. It shouldn't be a crime."
The rally featured speeches from a number of members of Winnipeg's Nigerian community. One speaker channelled his inner John Lennon to lead the crowd in a brief adaptation of Give Peace a Chance, replacing the signature lyrics with "All we are saying is bring back our girls."
Samson Oyeyiola, who moved to Winnipeg from Nigeria a year ago, said he was disgusted to hear stories from his homeland of the girls being molested.
"It's so painful. I'm a parent myself. I feel their pain," he said.
Even though the Mother's Day rally was thousands of kilometres away from the scene of the crime, Oyeyiola and other participants believed it would somehow have an impact.
"A rally like this shows a sign of international commitment to what is happening in Nigeria. It gets the message out that the whole world is against the abductions. Women should be given their rights of freedom in any part of the world," he said.
Daswell McLeod agreed. The Jamaican native, who has lived in Winnipeg for 38 years, said he wanted to show his support because of the strong ties between Africa and his homeland.
"I see (the abductions) as happening to my children and I want to see my children come home. When we are united, we stand, but divided, we fall. When people come together and protest, hopefully the terrorists will get the message that we will not stand by and see our children suffer," he said.
McLeod was also encouraging everybody to pray for the girls and their families.
"It's going to take God to bring back our children," he said.
The terrorists aren't the only ones to blame, said Kenny Daodu from the Nigerian Association of Manitoba, one of the rally's organizers. She said the Nigerian government, which has sat idly by in recent months and years while other kidnappings have taken place, needs to take responsibility and step up its efforts to protect all of its citizens.
"Nothing has been done in the past. We need good leadership to keep our people safe," she said.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Nigerian girls' whereabouts, Daodu said she was "very optimistic" the girls would soon be found safe and reunited with their families.
"We are confident that with all of the support from America and Canada that the girls will be returned. We are thanking everybody for their support," she said.