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)
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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More