Stepping Stones International is an innovative after school and community outreach program serving orphaned and vulnerable adolescents (ages 12-18+) and their caregivers. The program is unique, as the only initiative in Botswana that focuses exclusively on the underserved needs of teenagers. SSI works with local school counselors to identify teens who under-perform academically, have lost one or both parents, have experienced abuse at home, and or their basic needs are unmet. SSI uses a holistic program model, which combines life skills, leadership, psychosocial support and community mobilization to enable youth to heal the scars of the past, reconnect with their lost childhood, while growing into self-sufficient young adults.
It is estimated that 27% of all orphans in Botswana are adolescents between the ages of 14 and 17 years (Botswana AIDS impact Survey, BAIS III 2008). As a result, many children, in particular girls, have fallen into the role of caregivers, thus increasing the likelihood of denied focus on education, inadequate health care, and no protection from abuse. These issues hinder young people’s ability to express their opinions and feelings, preventing them from coping with their experiences and progressing in life.
Stepping Stones International’s work is already having a tangible impact on the lives of its participants. Whether they seek to improve their academic performance, access higher education, or attain employment, the preliminary results of the program have demonstrated these goals are well within reach. To date, there are numerous successes to celebrate. Some of our youth are attending University, working in the hospitality sector at Rasesa Lodge, practicing fashion design and landscaping one of Botswana’s finest golf courses.