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Helping women with their return – for 30 years

A collage of the artworks on display in the “Return in Dignity. Opportunities for Self-Determination in Life” exhibition

Helping women with their return – for 30 years

The organisation SOLWODI (Solidarity with Women in Distress) is partnered with the GIZ. Since 1985, it has been advising and helping women in distress who have experienced issues such as human trafficking, forced prostitution or relationship violence.

Its return and reintegration programme was set up 30 years ago. To mark this anniversary, an exhibition entitled “Return in Dignity. Opportunities for Self-Determination in Life” can be seen in the Women’s Museum (Frauenmuseum) Bonn until 21 October 2022. It displays artworks produced by 37 artists and deals with the life journeys of some of its clients.

GIZ has been supporting SOLWODI’s commitment on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) since 2017. One example of this is SOLWODI’s collaboration with our advisory centres in their clients’ countries of origin. This helps these women to find opportunities in their home country.

In an interview with Gudrun Angelis, a member of the SOLWODI board of directors since 2016, she speaks about the exhibition as a source of inspiration and how we can learn from each other through our counselling for returnees.


“Yes!”, 80 x 60 cm, oil on canvas, 2022 by Bettina Hauke. This painting portrays Grace. The support she received from SOLWODI meant she was able to open a convenience store in Ghana.

Ms Angelis, you’ve created and organised an exhibition to mark SOLWODI’s anniversary. Why did you choose this artistic approach?

I believe that art enables active communication and can inspire new viewpoints. The idea behind it is to give the public a different way of accessing the topic than any lengthy text could do. Presentation in an artistic form means that our visitors spend a long time at the exhibition. They also have the chance to read about the backgrounds of the women who inspired the artworks.

Who do you think will particularly appreciate the exhibition?

One vital aspect of the exhibition is to raise awareness of our clients’ situation, and that of refugees in general. We’re primarily focusing on the general population. A few of our visitors didn’t even know, for example, that human trafficking still exists in modern society. But we’re also targeting professionals who may be providing refugee counselling, and who can find a new way of accessing the topic via this exhibition. Our visitors are emotionally affected by everything that these women have had to experience on their journeys, and they realise that the individual welfare of the client must take priority. The exhibition reveals new aspects of the topic to each person who comes to see it.

“Home Sweep Home (The Returnee)”, oil on wood, 60 x 80 x 4 cm, 2022 by Betty Wirtz. In this painting, Wirtz shows Donika from Albania. Thanks to assistance, she now has the prospect of opening her own hair salon there.

How has the SOLWODI return and reintegration programme continued to develop since its inception 30 years ago?

The key elements since 1992 have been our counselling for returnees and the funding of economic and social reintegration via our connections with local partner organisations. Our support services and financial assistance are always based on the interests of our returnees; our counselling sessions are independent, without aiming for a specific outcome. The main element that’s new since 2018 is that we’ve also been offering a course involving activities to help prepare for reintegration. This includes us giving our clients specific assistance with the means to build their livelihood in their country of origin. There’s a mini exam at the end of these activities. We implement that course jointly with the Weiterbildungsgesellschaft der IHK, a continuing education company.

It makes the women really proud to be handed a certificate after the course, because it means they’ve got something to show people when they arrive back in their home country. We need to remember that many of our clients are illiterate and this may be the first time they’ve ever taken an exam. In recent years we've also focused on our clients’ children, because many of them grew up in Germany and don’t know their mother's country of origin.

“The proud fisherwoman”, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 60 cm, 2022 by Anja Ziegler. Here, Ziegler portrays Mai, who came to Germany from Vietnam. Also thanks to assistance from SOLWODI, she now has a shop that sells fish in Vietnam.

How does the team at SOLWODI assist the children of the women you advise?

When a mother wants to return to her own country, we sit down together and discuss how the children can be supported in that country to enable them to integrate. We can, for example, pay the school fees for a while until the mother can afford them herself. We can arrange for childcare if the mother has started a training course. And childcare is also available here in Germany while the mother is taking part in the activities to help prepare for reintegration.

How can others benefit from SOLWODI’s decades of experience in counselling for returnees?

We’ve been running symposiums for a few years now and they’ve been very popular. They generate lively discussions, and there’s a lot of interest in hearing about our clients’ lived experiences, as well as in learning more about the situation in their countries of origin. But the attendees are also interested in how we work, in other words how we manage to successfully reintegrate people who want to, or have to, return to their home country.

After Bonn, the plan is to move the exhibition to other places in Germany. The travelling exhibitions will be announced here.
Anyone interested can also take a virtual tour of the exhibition via:

As of: 10/2022

One vital aspect of the exhibition is to raise awareness of our clients’ situation, and that of refugees in general.
Gudrun Angelis

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