Displaced for the Holidays

The candles flicker casting a glow across the table. Soft melodies fill the air and the room is filled with a relaxed warmth. Laughter glides over the music, enhancing the harmonies and dancing in the candlelight.

Yet my thoughts are far away from the comfort and safety of this room. I think of those I met just a couple of weeks ago whose life is so different to mine. Tears fill my eyes as I think of how different their Christmas will be from mine this year.

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A group of boys and girls stand in front of me, their inquisitive faces cast curious stares in my direction. They wonder why I have come to their village today. I smile and wave at them. Their large brown eyes turn away in shyness, some giggle. One little boy grasps his toy car tightly, and grins at me.

My colleague explains to the small crowd that has gathered why we are visiting today. A moto-taxi driver stops to listen. Carpenters on the roof of a neighbouring house pause in their work to observe the goings-on. School children returning home wander past in groups, hushed whispers and glances turned our way.

Sitting under a tree we listen to the stories of those that have been displaced by the recent conflict here in Beni. An elderly lady, 78, tells of how she walked all the way from her village to escape the brutal attacks by armed groups. Her neighbours were killed.

She shows me the mattress where she sleeps, in the house she shares with relatives who have taken her in. It is balanced behind the sofa, out of the way during the day. The brand new cooking pots are beside the mattress, enough to cook food for her and the whole family. These are newly acquired items thanks to the recent emergency project we have done in the area and they seem to be making all the difference to her and her family.

As we leave the village I pass a toy car in the dust outside. Many here have fled their homes with just the clothes on their back and yet what little they have is precious to them. The little boy runs to pick up his plastic-bottle car and looks up at me. A smile in the midst of sadness.

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