NYIRAGONGO TERRITORY, Democratic Republic of Congo — Kazawati Bajeram squats on the grass, rearranging her newly-acquired provisions: a plastic jug of oil, salt, maize flour and dried beans, bundled up in makeshift cloth bags. Today, she knows her children will eat.
"They stole almost everything in the house, so life is very difficult," says the 35-year-old mother of four, referring to one of the numerous armed groups that have looted and pillaged their way across North Kivu province in recent weeks. "They stole the crops in my field; the potatoes, the cauliflower, everything is gone."
Like many here, Bajeram fled the latest wave of violence to have devastated the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeast. But in Nyiragongo Territory, an area of rolling hills about an hour's drive north from the provincial capital of Goma, people have been heading home.
With a lull in the violence in mid-December, WFP distributed food to Bajeram and more than 60,000 Congolese returnees in the area.
"Many of these people have been displaced since August. They've returned to find their homes and fields looted," says Wolfram Herfurth, head of WFP's Goma area office, who visited the area during the distributions. "We're helping them get back on their feet with food assistance."
Signs of normality
There are signs that life is returning to normal.
In the village of Buhumba, a couple of kilometers from a WFP food distribution point, the local school has reopened. Young men clamber up the scaffolding of houses being rebuilt. Farmers plow the rich, dark earth, under a light drizzle.
"Some people are returning to their fields, but they don't have enough seeds," says Buhumba's traditional chief, Innocent Nzitonda Rufufi.
That's the case of Bajeram. "There's nothing to plant," she says. "So I don't have the money to send my kids to school."
If calm prevails, WFP and its sister agency, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), will launch a joint initiative in early 2013 to help farmers like Bajeram get back to cultivating their fields. Over a three-month period, WFP plans to feed more than half a million displaced people and returnees in the area, while the FAO will provide them with seeds and other agricultural supplies.
"We'd like to get seeds to plant potatoes and beans," says Rufifi, the local chief. "If we get them, we'll be in good shape."