Sunday, September 12, 2010

Swiss pioneer shelter for newly separated husbands

A trickle of newly separated Swiss fathers looking for shelter and help after marital breakdown have been finding a warm bed and a sympathetic ear from a pilot project on the shores of Lake Zurich. Protestant pastor Andreas Cabalzar has founded Switzerland's first shelter for newly separated fathers in the Swiss village of Erlenbach, not far from Geneva. Unique in Switzerland, the project has seen the numbers of applications to stay in the house increasing every week.

"80 percent of the time it is the wife asking for a divorce and the children stay in the family home while the father leaves with his suitcases and becomes more vulnerable," Cabalzar said. The project began in September 2009 when four men visited Cabalzar to ask for help after separating from their wives. After leaving home, the men initially needed temporary shelter and a place to reflect on their situations. "At the first moment everybody needs a roof and a bed and no man is prepared for this step," Cabalzar said.

He said the problem pervades all sections of society and that he sees men from all walks of life hit by the problem. "In such a reality people are suffering," he said. Cabalzar offers the men a home as well as psychological and religious support if requested. Guests pay around 170 Swiss Francs ($166) per week to stay. The house can welcome three newly separated fathers at a time. There are also two bedrooms set aside for children to help the fathers maintain contact with their children.

"No more than three newly separated fathers can stay as it gives a very good synergy. They speak and help each other, it makes a good self-help group," Cabalzar said. Cabalzar is now looking at getting more houses. Some men stay a few days, others a few weeks but he makes sure that any stay is as short as possible. A former equities trader, Cabalzar is seeking independent financing for more houses within his parish to help separated fathers to rebuild their lives while maintaining contact with their children in the early stages of family break-up.

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