Germany and Comboni Sisters: Hope in the heart of Europe

They give hospitality and accompany and guide Nigerian, Somali and Eritrean women who were victims of human trafficking, giving them hope.This is the commitment of two Comboni Sisters in the SOLWODI project.

SOLWODI, is the acronym for Solidarity with Women in Distress” – says Sr. Margit Foster, a nun of German origin. “This organisation was established in Mombasa (Kenya) in 1985, thanks to Sister Lea Ackermann, who decided to create a place of hospitality and refuge, and professional training for women who were forced into prostitution. Over the years, the project was expanded with the establishment of facilities also in Germany, Austria and Romania. There are currently twenty-three SOLWODI centres in Germany, which operate independently in different regions”.

Most women who arrive at our SOLWODI centre come from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Somalia and Eritrea. They are victims of human trafficking and the prostitution racket or refugees who have crossed the Sahara, the Mediterranean or southern Europe routes, experiencing violence and desperation.
Every year about 200 people arrive at our centre”.

“The first thing we do when women arrive at our centre”, says Sr. Margit, “is to evaluate what their priority needs are. Our task consists of finding an accommodation for these women, and helping them with the bureaucratic and legal procedures for requesting asylum and the regularisation of their stay, in collaboration with the judicial authorities, in order to facilitate the investigations over the criminal organisations that control these women. But, most of all, we offer counselling, and psychological and social assistance in order to help these people to construct a new future”.
The latter is the most complex phase”, Sr. Margit underlines, “since it is long, difficult and uncertain. These women, who have not seldom been sold to traffickers by their own families, may experience an ordinary relocation, due to the inability of their hosts to continue to give them hospitality, as a new ‘abandonment’, which reopens their wounds, that had just healed, and this creates deep repercussions”.

“Their psychological distress is clearly shown when they have to tell their story to the authorities, who are in charge of examining asylum requests or who have to carry out investigations. They only mention the abandoning by their families, as if that was the only trauma they suffered, and the others which followed were not even worth mentioning. The paradox is that the authorities, instead, mainly take into consideration the tragic experiences these women had to go through after being abandoned by their families, the violence, the abuses, the threats they suffered match better with the legal criteria that regulate migration flows”.

Sr. Margit, however, can often see positive signals besides much suffering, when she meets the women who arrive at the centre. “Yes, I can see hope, understood as energy derived from these women’s confidence that the turning point is imminent. They also become aware of their skills, personal resources and their power once they are freed from the double yoke: the cultural and male chauvinist one and that of slave traders”. With reference to the religiosity of these women, Sr. Margit notices the different relationship they have with God compared to people in western countries. “To us, western people, religiosity is something primarily cognitive, while among them it becomes something concrete with an everyday connotation, as a guide in their everyday activities. God in Africa is alive. African women do not talk much about their experience of faith. They live it”.

Sr. Margit is convinced that it is extremely important to support these women’s strength and their ability to look forward. “Some of the women we host and guide, express the desire to create projects in their home countries in order to develop their role in their society of origin and prevent other women from becoming victims of traffickers. The first step to achieve this goal is to get access to education. We, missionaries at the SOLWODI centre, are also committed to giving concrete support to those processes that can finally make these women protagonists of their own destiny, their history and change in Africa”.

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