“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt 25:35)

Bienvenu Shelter


Refugee women and their children – their stories 

The women welcomed in the Bienvenu Shelter, are usually single mothers, carrying alone the responsibility to raise and support their children. Most are refugees and migrants with some cases of women South Africans, coming together and are integrated as part of the family. These women are in a situation of serious need of a helping hand. Women and their children are given hope, a time to heal and feel cared for, safe, respected and provided with the dignity they deserve by all those who are a part of this Mission.

Here we are able to present some of their stories, successes and challenges as spoken from their hearts, expressing their strengths and how they have rebuilt their lives in South Africa upon exiting the shelter. Their stories emphasize their continuous faith and hope for a better tomorrow.

(Names have been changed to protect the individual, and for the purpose of confidentiality)

Bienvenu Shelter resident Story

A is originally from South Sudan. She was merely 20 years old on admission to the Bienvenu Shelter in 2018. When the client was 16 years old, her father, an army general at that time, forced her to marry a man whom she did not know, and whom was a lot older than her.

The man paid dowry of 120 cattle and had demanded his matrimonial rights. As the client refused, her father used his power as an army general to have four soldiers kidnap her and put her in isolation until she would agree to marry. As she resisted, she was regularly beaten, tortured and deprived of food to the point where she was hospitalized.

The client managed to escape and fled to Johannesburg in fear that the perpetrators may find her, kidnap her and kill her. She was referred by Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees Department, Archdiocese of Johannesburg, and resided at the Bienvenu shelter for two years.

Here she was able to learn basic life skills, she had never cooked or cleaned before. She graduated from a sewing course and received weekly counselling sessions.

The client is now fully self-sustainable and has been working in a restaurant since leaving the shelter. She continues to be supported in dealing with her trauma and humanitarian assistance and regularly visits staff and management at the shelter.

Mamma D

Mamma D is a single mother from DRC. She fled to South Africa due to political reasons and fear for her life. Her daughter was born in South Africa and had many medical and chronic illnesses from birth. The father abandoned his child, blaming the mother for the child’s disability. The mother finds it difficult to see her child with delays even more so in a third world African country where disability is still shunned upon. Her daughter presented more delays when she started school and was diagnosed with traits of autism and intellectual difficulties. Mamma D found it difficult to cope and became mentally unwell.

The shelter welcomed mother and daughter and managed to place her child in a special private school where she was able to receive all the support therapy and stimulation needed. This also enabled the mother to manage her ill health and she was then able to start selling household products. During mamma D’s stay she was also provided with a two-month training course in Ancillary Health Care Work in which she completed.

Mamma D has always put her child first and she is a very loving and caring mother who has never given up even with all challenges she and her daughter have faced. Their bond is tight and the reason she applied to re-settle to a country who could provide for the long term needs of her daughter. This was a major worry for the mother that when she could no longer care for her daughter, who could do so as the system is South Africa is blocking foreign nationals all rights to services.

After many years of waiting, they received the positive answer they were waiting for and after a short time of preparation they were both resettled and are doing so well re-starting their lives.

Mamma A

A. is a mother of three from Burundi, she and her family came to South Africa in 2008 to seek refugee after fleeing because her husband was suspected to be politically involved and assisting the opposition party around 2005/6. According to A, a war broke out between the two tribes, the Ba Hutu and Tutsi and her husband was believed to be leaking information detrimental to the Hutu tribe. A reported that one day unknown people stormed into her home looking for her husband, a nurse by profession, they also went to look for him at the local clinic where he worked. Upon hearing the news, her husband ran and left the country. At that stage, he did not inform anyone including his family where he was heading and later about his whereabouts. The unknown group of people came back and A was taken to an unknown location suspected to be a prison where she was tortured, raped and kept prisoner for days. At that time, her eldest daughter was only two, and according to A, someone known to the family and also in the military services helped her to escape and arranged that her daughter be brought to a secret location where they then fled to South Africa.

After arriving in South Africa, A. said she was connected with the Burundian community in South Africa and it was through that community that she found out that her husband fled to Zimbabwe and made his way to South Africa. Eventually they reconnected and had two more children but later deserted the family. To this day, they do not know his exact whereabouts.

A. has struggled since and as she has now a grown son, and therefore she would be separated from him if she was to be admitted to Bienvenu Shelter and this was not an option for her. Therefore, we supported her needs outside. She has been assisted with rental support, small business, transport to hospitals/clinics for her long-term health needs. Her younger child has been supported with school fees and the family receive regular food parcels and bread. A. visits regularly to connect with the staff and it is here that she is able to discuss her challenges and successes with the team, providing her with the long-term psychosocial support she requires.