The importance of a pearl necklace in refugee women’s lives

“The women are all very different and every woman is so impressive,” says Laura Gudd, a social worker at the Asylum Center in Tübingen. Together with Dana Pietsch and two psychologists, she works on the project “Biography work. Culture-sensitive empowerment of vulnerable and abused refugee women”. Biography work involves participants thinking positively about their own life and developing perspectives for their personal future. This method is often used after a crucial experience in one’s own life, such as having to flee one’s country of origin.

Women who fled their country of origin on their own often experienced violence, coercion and situations of helplessness. Even after their arrival in Germany, they are constantly confronted with these experiences, due to the asylum procedure: “Many women feel reduced to being just refugees,” says Laura Gudd. During their one and a half hour conversations, the violence experienced by these women is pushed to the background. The aim of the biography work is to find out their strengths and to reflect on moments in life in which these women experienced themselves as strong and mastered challenges. “The women can say: ‘I am not just a victim of human trafficking, I am also a good mother, I am a great cook, I can speak many languages, I am an athlete, I studied computer science’, and a lot of other things.”

In the conversations, the women are the ones who decide what they want to talk about. “Some women come to me and don’t want to talk about their past at all. I accept that and we talk about what is happening now or what they want for their future.” A psychologist accompanies the five or more sessions and gives practical advice if flashbacks, in which they relive past events or feelings, or heavy memories come up.

There are various methods the project uses, one of which is the making of a pearl necklace. The cord symbolizes the lifeline, each pearl represents a beautiful experience. “Those can be achievements, like a graduation from school, or moving moments, like the birth of the first child.” The women take the pearl necklace with them. In difficult moments, they can visualize the good things in their lives and thus go through their everyday life strengthened.

The talks are in German, English, Russian, French or with an interpreter. If interested, one can contact the staff of the Asylum Center in Tübingen. The project is a cooperation of various institutions, which are based in Tübingen, Fulda, Kiel and Heilbronn. It is funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration and Refugees.

Contact information for Laura Gudd from the biography project in the Asylum Center Tübingen: l.gudd@asylzentrum-tuebingen.de and general contact to the Asylum Center: 07071 – 44 115

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