Welcome, women”, the scalabrinian sisters’ shelter project for refugee women in Rome

“Khaire Gynai,” or “Welcome, hello women.” This is the name of the welcoming project, wanted by Pope Francis, for migrant, refugee mothers and women, and victim of violence launched in Rome by the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo Scalabrinians in 2018.  The name was chosen to express joy in welcoming: it is the same greeting that the angel Gabriel brings to Mary and that the risen Jesus addresses to women. 

In the home run by the Scalabrinian Sisters, in collaboration with the Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Redeemer, refugee women find a family where they can begin to build their lives. Sister Eleia Scariot, Scalabrinian missionary coordinator of the project, recounts, “We want to help them on their path of integration and professional enhancement. The basis is the redemption of hope: these women receive human and professional help and accompaniment, living experiences of coexistence, entertainment and spirituality that are revitalizing to redeem their self-esteem, often wounded during their migratory journey. And at the same time these women and their children will be able to contribute to the construction of a different society, here in the territory where they are inserted.”

Psychologist Raffaella Bencivenga explains, “Our goal is to accompany them toward autonomy, make them ready for life outside. When you leave the reception centers, very often you don’t know where to go, you can’t afford rent or you work off the books. After the migration journey and everything they have been through, their identity has to be rebuilt. We write a personalized program together that aims to findingg a home and supporting themselves economically. We help them learn Italian better, get a driver’s license, find a more stable job”. 

The home houses 12 women with their children for a period ranging from six months to a year and until they have achieved complete autonomy and integration. Welcomed are people who have already been granted refugee status in Italy or are in the process of obtaining documents, speak Italian and have a job or an internship. 

Reham is a 20-year-old girl who fled Syria four years ago with her mother, deaf sister, and brother. Her school was bombed and she had to pull the bodies of her classmates out of the rubble. By the time she arrived home at “Chaire Gynai”, she had a block with the Italian language and had shelved her dreams of graduating from college. She began pursuing an apprenticeship as a pizza maker, cleaned in a kindergarten, and delivered packages, until she found the courage to try again. Together with Raffaella, she sought a scholarship, and with a lot of hard work and commitment, Reham managed to win it. Today she studies economics at the University of Trento and also works as a cultural mediator. “With this project I discovered that I could still dream and believe in my possibilities,” she says.  

“The most beautiful thing about my work,” Raffaella continues, “is seeing the resilience of these women. We are their mirror here: we show the skills that they themselves show us, but which they do not see in  themselves.  We see miracles simply by reminding them of what they have been through so far. They tell us, “It’s true, I’ve overcome that and I can overcome this test as well.” They are thus able to see reality with a different look.” 

As happened to Aisha, mother of a 4-year-old girl. When she arrived, she didn’t want to leave the room anymore, seeing only darkness ahead. The Khaire Gynai team thought of placing her in the home of an Italian family. She was taken in by a mother with an adult son and in this family dimension she found herself again. Today she has a job and lives with her child in a rented apartment. 

Khaire Gynai also takes in trafficked women, like Joel, who arrived in Italy from Nigeria and was forced into prostitution on the streets of the capital. Joel found the courage to denounce her exploiters and escaped. She was taken in by the Scalabrinian nuns and began working as a waitress in a restaurant. Right there, her employer harassed her. “Too many women keep quiet, I want to talk,” she told Raffaella. Joel was accompanied legally and psychologically and today she is finally financially independent. 

“For us to work with migrants is a great grace that confirms our mission,” explains Sister Neusa de Fatima Mariano, superior general of the Scalabrinians. “Welcome, protect, promote, integrate are the four guiding verbs for Pope Francis and they are the four verbs that guide our pastoral choices, because no one should feel like a foreigner, we are all sons and daughters of the same Father. My thanks go to the Holy Father, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life with the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development (Migrants and Refugees Section), UISG (International Union of Superiors General) who support Khaire Gynai”.