Mary is far from home at the main hospital in Goma, the main city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. She travelled through the forest for three days to get here, carried by four men on a stretcher over hills and through bush as she lay weak and angry from pain.
There were no nurses or doctors at the health centre because they all fled when forces clashed close to her home. Despite the fact that some rebel groups have laid down their arms in recent months, other groups continue to fight the Congolese armed forces and inflict a terrible toll on communities.
Mary was pregnant when the fighting broke out and with no one to treat her complications, the baby died inside her. It remained there for two weeks.
“This was my first pregnancy and now I will probably never have children,” 20-year-old Mary said.
As we discussed how the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has shattered the basic way of life in Mary’s village, many families are packing up the little they have in displacement camps close to Goma and making their way home.
No one really knows how many people are returning to their homes now that rebel groups have joined the government army they used to fight in January. Agencies estimate that tens of thousands have gone back to villages close to the Uganda border; others to communities west of Lake Kivu.
Colleagues who have been on assessment missions to some of these villages tell me whole areas have been destroyed.
Families have lost everything – their crops, cattle and possessions. Teachers lead classes without pay and schools have been destroyed by soldiers. School furniture has even been cut up and used as firewood.
"We have to rebuild everything"
A man in Shasha displacement camp said families from his area sent an expedition to their village to find out what was left.
“Our village is safe,” he said. “But we have to rebuild everything.”
Meanwhile community protection committees, set up by World Vision, say armed groups throughout North Kivu are exacting “taxes” from civilians as they try to return home. Some who are unable to pay are beaten or raped.
Those who do make it back must work land which has been left unattended for months or perhaps years. If they are quick enough to make this planting season, they will still have to wait months for any kind of harvest.
The headlines have stopped, but life continues
The crisis in eastern Congo has dropped out of the headlines but the consequences of conflict are no less urgent for women like Mary.
Those returning to their homes need support from funds committed to rebuilding and repairing. At the same time, agencies must continue to assist those newly-displaced by the conflict and to provide humanitarian relief for those in camps so they are not forced to return home too early by a sudden reduction in aid.
Those who have already suffered so much must be free to make the difficult decision between a hard camp life and going home to very little.
Anna Ridout works for World Vision in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)