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.
The 21 girls 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.
The girls, Christians who were forcibly converted to Islam by their captors, prayed together before leaving Abuja Friday morning on the first leg of their journey home.
As they waited to board the flight to Yola they appeared tense. Their colorful clothes and bright smiles did little to mask the pain and anxiety behind their eyes.
Some of the girls had confided in their Abuja caretakers that they were worried about how they would be received by the wider community due to the stigma of being held by Boko Haram.
However, there was a palpable sense of growing excitement Friday once they were on the move. They smiled more readily, giggling and chattering freely among themselves.
When asked how they were feeling about reuniting with family and friends in their hometown, they answered in unison: “We are happy!”
After landing in Yola, they were welcomed by the governor and local community leaders. But the second half of their reunion journey was delayed as the road to Chibok was deemed too dangerous to travel at night.
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.