News / Africa

Kenyan Support Group Helps Young Adult Orphans Cope

"Members of the Scars to Stars adult orphan support group discuss issues on July 1, 2012 in Nairobi. (VOA Photo/Jill Craig)
"Members of the Scars to Stars adult orphan support group discuss issues on July 1, 2012 in Nairobi. (VOA Photo/Jill Craig)
Jill Craig
NAIROBI — Losing both parents is a traumatic experience. For Kenyan young adults, this process becomes even more difficult as they struggle with social stigma, financial insecurity, begrudging relatives, and lack of an emotional support system.  To deal with these challenges, Catherine “Sonnie” Gitonga started an adult orphan support group through her foundation, Scars to Stars, to help these young people deal with the challenges of daily life.

Catherine “Sonnie” Gitonga is 30 years old.  She lost her father at age 14 and her mother when she was 18.  She realized that the needs of young adult orphans were not being met, so she started the Scars to Stars foundation in 2007 -- which hosts a monthly support group for adult orphans between the ages of 15 and 35.

“So I just thought, someone might be struggling the same road.  And I know people don’t really think of young adult orphans… many have issues that they don’t know are actually issues from their past,” she explained.

But these issues are usually buried, because young adults are considered old enough to take care of themselves.

“OK, we always think that an orphan is someone between that age, something to do with one year to nine years.  And the others, they think that you can now fend for yourself.  You are a big person,” said group member Silas Yuaya.

For older orphans, who are many times forced to drop out of school due to a lack of fees, society often interprets “fending for yourself” as becoming a casual laborer, beggar, or prostitute to earn money.

When Gitonga’s parents died, even her own family assumed this. “Actually, one of my uncles, after the funeral, called the four of us, we are girls, and told us, ‘Now, your parents have died, do whatever you want to do, but don’t do it in this house.  Do not make this house a brothel.’  And actually, at that time, I didn’t even know what a brothel was.  I just saw my sister broke down and cried.  And later, I was like, what did he say?  What’s a brothel?  Yeah, so do it, but do it outside," she recalls. "That is how people look, that is what they see.”

Christabel Masheti has been coming to Gitonga’s support group since 2007.  She is now 33 years old, but was 18 when both of her parents died.  She says that many of these relatives who bring orphaned family members into their homes do so with resentment.  And the orphans suffer.

“Most of them, here, they’re mistreated, but they have no choice.  Wherever they live, they do all the housework, like the housegirls," Masheti explained. "They are insulted, they’re insulted by their relatives.  Financially, they’re not helped.  They have to seek help outside.” 

But Gitonga says that sometimes when these young adults do seek help outside, they lack the tools to make it on their own.

“Most of them are void of emotional support, they go through a lot of stress.  They relieve it in so many ways, they get into drugs, they get into that prostitution, many, many get married early, not because of love, but to escape from the hard life that they are living," said Gitonga. "And unfortunately, they get married to men who abuse them.”

Gitonga’s monthly support group has over 40 active members, split about evenly between men and women.  Participants sing songs, play games, and talk about their week.  They discuss topics like HIV, rape, and mistreatment in their relatives’ homes.  For many, it is the only chance they have to talk about their feelings.

“Emotionally, it has helped me emotionally.  I started with Catherine at the beginning, the very beginning, so I’ve met a number of people and I’ve realized that people have gone through worse things than me,” Masheti explained.

Gitonga agrees that a good support system is the key to healing. “So it helps in so, so many ways.  Yeah, and just to know that you’re not alone.  It just makes you brighten up, it just gives you this confidence in life,” she said.

And this confidence seems to be improving their lives.

You May Like

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukraine PM Warns Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid