Zwei Frauen und ihre Kinder lachen gemeinsam.

Close to people | Stories from Bethel

On the run and pregnant - at 17

Home is where you feel comfortable. That's how Fayola Dossou* feels - in two places at once: in the flat where she now lives with her husband and three children, and in the Alice Salomon House (ASH) in Bielefeld-Bethel. It was there, after a dangerous escape from her home country of Benin, that she experienced helpfulness and warmth; it was there that she gave birth to her first child at the age of 17. And it was there that the now 24-year-old learnt how to build a life for herself in Germany.

Fayola Dossou does not want to talk about the reasons why she left Benin, about what happened to her at a young age. But one thing is clear: her homeland no longer felt like home to her. Escape was the only option for the then 17-year-old - despite all the dangers and uncertainties. She travelled from Africa across the Mediterranean to Europe in a boat overcrowded with people; at a stopover in Italy, she met her current husband, who was also a refugee. And became pregnant, even though she was almost a child herself.

Chance brought Fayola Dossou and her husband to Bielefeld. There she was soon referred to the ASH. "Young age, flight and pregnancy, a new language, culture and environment, plus the struggle for asylum - Mrs Dossou was and is a huge package," says ASH director Ursula Stegmann about a girl who could hardly have been more in need of help when she was admitted in August 2016. "When I came to Bielefeld, I knew nothing," confirms Fayola Dossou, "I had no idea how to cope and live with a child."

The Alice Salomon House offers assisted living for pregnant women and single mothers and fathers - regardless of their origin - aged 16 and over with their children under the age of 6. A total of 22 places are available. Due to their personal, family, emotional or social situation, these often very young people are not yet in a position to lead an independent life with their offspring.

The ASH employees helped Fayola Dossou with the care and upbringing of her daughter and later her two other children. She also received support in her efforts to obtain a residence permit in Germany. The family now has a residence permit for three years. There is apparently a realistic chance that they will be able to stay in Germany permanently, as returning would be unreasonable for humanitarian reasons.

After four years at the ASH, Fayola Dossou and her children left the house. "We would have liked to stay longer," she says, "because we felt comfortable and safe there." Just like at home. This was possible thanks to the wide range of help on offer, but also because Ursula Stegmann and her team are always available to the people living there for all issues. "This reliability, listening, supporting, simply being there, is unconditional," emphasises employee Friederike Koll. "And that," adds Ursula Stegmann, "is how trust can develop between people."

The family of five has now made the step towards independence. Father, mother and children live together in a flat outside Bethel. He has found work, she is studying for a secondary school leaving certificate and would like to work in nursing or geriatric care afterwards. Fayola Dossou had a difficult start in life, facing the most difficult challenges early on. But with her willingness to roll up her sleeves and thanks to the help from Bethel, she is now giving her family and herself a perspective. A perspective for a good life at home in Germany.

*Name changed by the editors

Text: Philipp Kreutzer | Photos: Sarah Jonek

This story simply told

Fayola Dossou fled her home country of Benin. The escape was very dangerous. At the Alice Salomon House in Bethel, she experienced helpfulness and warmth. She gave birth to her first child here at the age of 17 and learnt how to build a life in Germany. Today she lives in her own flat with her husband and three children.

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About the offer

Bethesdaweg 8
33617 Bielefeld

Assisted living for mother and child
Tel.: 0521 144-2485

Assisted living for young women
Tel.: 0521 144-2225

Offer & services

At the Alice Salomon House, young women and single or expectant mothers aged 16 and over receive socio-educational counselling and support. The staff advise and support these young women in coping with their everyday lives and shaping their individual paths in life. The aim is to achieve an educational/professional qualification and to expand their own competences.

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