Through networking, knowledge sharing and capacity building, a Germany-based African organisation is giving hope to migrant girls and women who had to return to their homeland in Ghana
Frankfurt, Germany-based Maisha – African Women in Germany e.V. was founded in 1996 and it focuses on the improvement of the situation of African migrants, especially girls and women.
In co-operation with the health department of the city of Frankfurt, the organisation has been offering health advisory services to Africans for more than twenty years.
Maisha also focuses on other issues surrounding the experiences of migration. Hence it fights against discrimination and works for the empowerment of African female migrants.
African women and girls often fall victims to human traffickers who deceive their victims with the promise of a rosy future in Europe only to trick them into situations where they are subjected to exploitation and violence.
This is how many girls and women who were told of decent jobs waiting for them in Europe find themselves forced into prostitution when they arrive.
Even before reaching Europe through irregular routes, many of the female migrants are exposed to horrendous human rights violations including rape and other physical abuses.
The life of irregular migrants is difficult enough but that of girls and women among them are particularly traumatising as they are exposed to all forms of exploitation. A situation where they are unable to secure legal residency and have to return home therefore puts them at crossroads, not knowing which way to go.
Many of the female irregular migrants who must return home face difficulties when they arrive their homelands, including the shame of failing in their quest for better future in Europe and having nothing to do to sustain themselves.
To address the situation, Maisha runs a project that raises awareness of the dangers and risks of irregular migration through advocacy work of the returnees but also to empower them to be able to build a decent and sustainable livelihood in Ghana.
Maisha Akwaaba Project, initiated two years ago, with the support of Germany’s Foreign Ministry, gives returnee women and girls the chance to discuss and share their own migration experiences, highlighting the dangers of travelling across the Sahara, the Mediterranean and the vulnerabilities of living as undocumented female migrants in Europe.
Virginia Wangare Greiner, founder of Maisha e.V., was inspired to start the project in Ghana by a request from the office of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was about to go on a state visit to Ghana in 2018. The head of state embarked on the trip to, among others, open the Ghanaian-German Centre for Jobs, Migration and Reintegration in Accra, which offers advisory services to would-be migrants and returnees.
Mrs Greiner felt challenged to offer her immense experiences in support of the work of the German government especially as regards girls and women.
In 2018, Maisha started Akwaaba, which means welcome in the Akan language, with 50 returnees from Europe, who often face rejection from their families for failing to establish themselves in the Eldorado even as they have to deal with the traumatic experiences they had gone through.
“Our intention is to understand their situation, to listen to their heartbeats and to offer assistance in helping them to rebuild their lives, which has been marked, sometimes for life, by their negative experiences,” Mrs Greiner said.
Akwaaba therefore offers space for healing and assist returnee women and girls to look for new perspectives in Ghana.
The project Akwaaba started with 50 women, who are trained to become counsellors on migration.
After their training, the women become ‘Change Agents on Migration’ as they visit schools to talk about their experiences so that girls can gain a realistic picture of what irregular migration entails and therefore become less susceptible to the deceit of human traffickers. A focus of the outreach program are issues of violence against women in the process of irregular migration and as undocumented migrants in Europe.
Moreover, the returnees provide information about legal opportunities for migration thereby empowering their listeners to make informed decisions when contemplating migration.
Another major activity of Akwaaba is capacity-building through the empowerment of the returnee girls and women by providing space for them to learn skills ranging from soap-making to fashion creation. Maisha also supports them to develop their entrepreneurial ideas and market their products and services.
For example, through the organisation’s initiative Maisha Business Women in Europe, returnee entrepreneurs are able to market their products and services in partnership with African businesses in Europe through an online shop.
Maisha Akwaaba Project is now in its second phase. “We are proud of what has been achieved so far and wish to build on the goodwill of all who have contributed to the successes of the work to date,” Maisha says.
“In this new program we wish to continue with this work of Awareness-raising, Networking and Capacity building and leave behind women and girls who are themselves equipped to share and advise other women and girls professionally about travelling to Europe and who will then be encouraged and assisted by others to create and grasp economic opportunities in Ghana.”
Akwaaba is reaching out to traditional chiefs, churches and other community/political leaders to sensitize them to the issue of female returnees and potential migrants. As influencers, they can create a greater awareness of the dangers and risks of irregular migration in their areas of influence but also promote a better understanding for returnees to reduce the stigma associate with them.
“This is important so that they can accept returnees wholeheartedly into society and not see them as failures,” Mrs Greiner said.
Maisha–African Women in Germany is currently lobbying for the establishment of a permanent centre in Ghana for women returnees “who often need somewhere to collect their thoughts and perhaps heal before returning to their homes”.
More about Maisha e.V. at www.maisha.org