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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs