Empowerment and Sustainability with Vulnerable Refugee Women and Children

January 1, 2010

Refugees arriving in South Africa find themselves in legal limbo for years, without the right to seek formal employment and lacking the documents that give them access to social and health services, education and to open bank accounts. As the refugees are confronted with great difficulties in finding work they have more problems in providing for the family, leading to a situation of extreme poverty and social exclusion.  Many women arriving in South Africa with their children find that access to the formal job market is mostly denied with their Asylum Seeker documents.  Finding other jobs is very difficult and scarce.  Jobs that are found often pay very badly and cannot sustain a family.

Among the few NGO’s attempting to assist refugees is the small Bienvenu Shelter which opened in 2001. The Bienvenu Shelter targets socio-economically vulnerable women and children many of whom are traumatized and/or have health ailments. Priority is given to new refugee women and their children as the most vulnerable.  Bienvenu Shelter considers that helping very needy refugee women get their children into daycare, crèche and school is essential.  This way the children can develop educationally and be in an environment to adapt culturally while the mothers have more time and means to look for work and means of sustaining themselves.

Bienvenu Shelter provides limited accommodation, meals, baby-room services, crèche for the children, clothing and basic health care for a period of three months.  In addition it provides courses to these women in sewing, computer class and beadwork as well as offering, through its network, assistance with psychological care, English classes, professional training, enrolment of children in schools, financial support for small businesses, repatriation, resettlement to other countries and assistance with personal documentation.

The funding provided by Refugee Empowerment International will assist Bienvenu shelter with the provision of documentation and training to refugee residents. It is expected that this funding will directly impact approximately 70 individuals and indirectly assist another 55.


The project in South Africa was able to provide 151 individuals with living accommodation and food. The sewing room is becoming a self-sustaining business. The residents of the Bienvenu Shelter receive 6 rand ($0.67) for each completed piece of work. Towards the end of the project an ex-resident of the shelter came to teach a class on bead work. Participants in the class learned how to make various accessories that were sold to buy more materials for the shelter.

The Lovely Bears daycare service took care of 60 children. In daycare the children were able to learn and grown and 13 of these children were easily accepted into local schools. Also, the newly opened “Mother Assunta Baby Room” was able to provide care to 45 babies, allowing women ease of mind while searching for job.

Case Study

The Bienvenu Shelter was able to take in a young pregnant girl. Sadly her parents kicked her out and she had no legal paperwork, but she still wished to return to school and attend university. The shelter is currently helping to get this young girl documents so that she can return to school. The baby she gave birth to attends the “Mother Assunta Baby Room”, leaving the girl free to learn and work.