“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt 25:35)
It was the beginning of the new millennium and in the city of Johannesburg, as it was worldwide, the church was celebrating the Jubilee. In the pastoral service carried out at the Pastoral care for Migrants and Refugee Department in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, along with the Scalabrinian Missionary Sisters saw the need of so many Refugee women and their children fleeing conflict and persecution seeking a better life. Upon arrival in Johannesburg, they had nowhere to turn and no means of a safe and secure space for refugee women – especially when there were children with them in serious situations of need.
On March 23, 2001, thanks to a set of positive factors and shared solidarity, ideas, resources, services, and love, emerged in a peripheral neighbourhood of the city of Johannesburg, a home for Refugee Women and Children named Bienvenu Shelter for Refugee Women and their Children.
The name of the Shelter is a tribute to the founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family, Pierre-Bienvenu Noailles, who donated the building located in the suburbs of Johannesburg where the work began.
This beginning was only possible with the joint work, working hand in hand with donors, friends and partners organizations, from local and international services, whom dedicated their time, commitment and material support to this important mission of “Assisting Women and their Children to better their lives’.
Bienvenu Shelter is committed to helping and motivating Migrant and Refugee Women and their Children to better their lives and we aim to provide holistic support to facilitate their self-sustainability and integration into the local welcoming community.
The Bienvenu Shelter adopts and reflects on the mission of the Scalabrinian Missionary Sisters: to serve in the perspective of ‘Being a Migrant with Migrants’, with special priority and attention to those who go through situations of greater vulnerability, protecting and promoting their dignity, their human rights and promoting their protagonism.
Bienvenu Shelter is a concrete project on how the Scalabrinian Sisters, together with a large network of volunteer collaborators, partner organisations and Refugee leaders, not forgetting our donors, both local and international, seek to achieve in empowering Refugee and Migrant Women and their Children, giving them back their dignity, ensuring their self-worth is at all times upheld through their personal journeys.
A yearly plan is put in place for both residents and staff members which is according to training needs and any current topics in relation to the Mission. This formation is vital as it provides the sharing of information and it also enables people to grow and learn having a better knowledge and understanding of current affairs and life-skills. Training and workshops are provided both in-house and by external professionals.
Ongoing celebrations take place in accordance to our faith. Ecumenical activities take place weekly where we offer spiritual care and pastoral accompaniment to both residents and staff in order to live their faith and beliefs regardless of their religion. Specific calendar events throughout the year for the Scalabrinian Feasts take place along with all other special occasions. This is a time when we all get together sharing diversity, reflecting on our value systems and generally coming together as one large family unit.
Is a vital part of the work carried out at Bienvenu Shelter. In order for us to assist so many vulnerable women and children, we need the support of external organisations in which we have, over the years built good relations with. Due to the needs and great vulnerabilities, we have a strong network support system in place whereby we can refer women and their children for assistance based on their needs.
We work closely with health service providers and all Governmental Departments and services. Counselling and psychosocial support, childrens play therapy services and family group therapy support is provided to the beneficiaries and are carried out by skilled and trained professionals.
Legal services are always needed in order to obtain documentation and to seek advise on their rights when it is required. Such services are utilised regularly along with the Department of Education in order for their children to attend public schools.
We work closely with other shelters and organisations supporting migrant and Refugees and have many referrals through this. There are occasions when we also have to refer women and their children to other shelters as they do not meet the criteria. Hence the importance of working together for the same cause.
We work in colaboration with Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees at the Archdiocese of Johannesburg. As well with Catholic Organizations locally, nationally, regionally and internationally and through this we have many interested volunteers willing to assist and give their time to the mission.