This year, Benita Maombi is looking forward to celebrating her first Christmas in her home village since she was a child.
Benita was just four when she first fled her home in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), soon after fighting broke out between different militia groups and the national Congolese army (FARDC).
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people in North and South Kivu have been forced from their homes.
At different stages in her life Benita, now 22, has lived under tarpaulin in makeshift camps, or in the homes of people willing to open their doors to those displaced by the conflict.
Each time she and her fellow villagers felt it was safe to return home, the conflict would erupt again and they would be driven out once more.
However, for the past year Benita, her husband and their three children have been rebuilding their lives back in their village, Iyabora, with the support of our partner.
Seeds and training
On Christmas Day last year, following a period of relative calm in the Kanyabayonga region, many families were encouraged to return home.
And in April 2013, Christian Aid and our partner, the Bureau Oeucuménique d'Appui au Développement (BOAD), started supporting the 300 residents of Iyabora who had returned.
Thanks to EC Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) funds, BOAD was able to provide seeds, tools and training to grow different vegetables, so that the families could feed themselves.
‘We have spent almost 20 years living in exile.'
The village chief, Hangi Kitamunda, reflects on their lost decades: ‘We have spent almost 20 years living in exile. Our grandparents and ancestors lived here for a long time.
'Back in 1993, more than 500 people lived here. The village used to have sturdy roofed houses, schools, markets, food stores and churches.’
Today the school is an open patch of ground with one small blackboard on an easel. There are no shops or churches. There’s no market. And the houses are made from sticks and mud collected in the bush.
‘Last year, we couldn’t celebrate Christmas,’ says Hangi. ‘We returned to a village that was overgrown. We had to cut down trees and work out where and how to build houses.’
Benita is over the moon to have returned to Iyabora and to have a home at last, but life is far from easy.
‘My house is very basic. I only have two saucepans and one bowl, which we use for eating. And we only have one blanket and one water can for the whole family.
'We still have no bed and no furniture in the house. When it rains, water pours through the roof, so it’s bad for my children’s health.’
Looking to the future
On seeing fellow Iyaborans begin to re-establish their livelihoods with support from organisations such as BOAD, many more households have now returned in the hope there will be further support in the future.
Most people in the village will celebrate Christmas this year with food on their plates, hopeful that peace will be sustained and they can remain at home for the foreseeable future.
But they are all still at the beginning of a long journey to rebuild their lives.