Replacing Shame with Support for Young Adult Orphans in Kenya

For Kenyan youth that have aged out of care as orphans, marginalization and stigmatization are like toxins running in the water–each type of treatment both harmful and ever-present.  Educating the country to dilute the country’s deluded notions of orphaned youth has been an arduous process; one that Catherine Gitona, a Kenyan adult orphan herself, has willingly taken on.

In her mission to provide assistance to the population of unappreciated young adult orphans, Gitona created Scars to Stars, a foundation that offers support groups to adult orphans between the ages of 15 and 35.  As an example of the difficulties aged-out youth orphans face, these individuals are often expected to “fend for themselves” as they are seen as mature enough to sort out any personal, financial, or health issues that might pose risk.  Worsening matters are the labels practically branded upon these older orphans, forcing them into shame and excluding them from equitable treatment and participation in society.  “Vandal.”  “Beggar.”  “Prostitute.”  Gitona and Scars to Stars are working to wipe these pejorative labels from Kenyan society’s lexicon, giving orphaned youth a fair start in certainly unfair circumstances.

As a support group, Scars to Stars presents a comfortable environment in which active members are free to participate in everything from games and singing to discussion of heavier topics such as HIV, rape, or mistreatment in their relatives’ homes.  Such a support system is unavailable for many members in their daily lives.  Gitonga explains, “Most of them are void of emotional support, they go through a lot of stress… So it helps in so, so many ways… It just makes you brighten up, it just gives you this confidence in life.”  The foundation exemplifies the decency and humanity each orphaned youth deserves, especially those aging out of care and entering a life of new responsibilities.  With Gitona’s efforts and those of the world community, orphaned youth aging out of care will increasingly have the freedom to make of their lives whatever they desire, emerging from the murky waters as rejuvenated adults.

Camil Sanchez-Palumbo
IOFA Project Development Intern

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