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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs