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Freed Chibok girls return home for joyful Christmas


Chibok, Nigeria (CNN)It was a journey they had waited nearly three long years to take.

Ten weeks after being released by Boko Haram, 21 freed Chibok schoolgirls and a baby returned home this month to celebrate Christmas with their families for the first time since they were snatched by the terror group.
    The April 2014 kidnapping of nearly 300 girls from a boarding school in Chibok sparked global outrage a #BringBackOurGirls campaign on social media.
    CNN accompanied the 21 girls as they made the journey from the capital Abuja, where they have been undergoing medical and psychological assessments since they were released by Boko Haram nearly two months ago in a deal brokered by an unnamed Swiss contingent and the Nigerian authorities.
    On Friday morning CNN’s Isha Sesay boarded a flight with the girls from Abuja to Yola in eastern Nigeria, where the girls would make a six-hour road trip north to Chibok.




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    So the girls gathered Friday night in their Yola hotel — surrounded by military guards — to pray and sing Christian hymns and songs. Their captors would have certainly not approved.
    Watching them during these solemn acts of worship, it was not hard to see how they kept going through the worst moments of their ordeal with Boko Haram.

    Home at last

    At the crack of dawn on Christmas Eve, the girls hit the road, accompanied by a military convoy that escorted them to Chibok. As we entered the town six hours later, we were greeted by a crowd of locals, many waving excitedly.
    Parents and other family members were waiting anxiously to see their daughters again.
    The moment of reunion finally arrived amid scenes of unbridled joy. Parents and daughters embraced, the pain and relief of the past two and a half years etched on their faces.
    But then, suddenly we could hear wailing and heart-rending screams. Some mothers had come expecting to see their daughters, only to learn they were still being held by Boko Haram.
    These women had thought their girls would be among the group coming home for Christmas. Their moment of hope gone, they remained inconsolable.
    There are 197 Chibok girls still in captivity, and talks are ongoing to free them. Sources tell CNN that negotiations only involve 83 of the girls.
    More joyful reunions like the ones we witnessed here may soon follow. But they may also be tempered by the grief of parents whose daughters are never coming home.

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