More than a million refugees have fled to Uganda from South Sudan, home to Africa's longest running civil war. Among them was Stella, a 19-year-old girl who loves to sing. Wearing thin rubber sandals, she walked for days, terrified and alone. Girls fleeing violence face extreme risk of death or sexual assault. Many men take advantage of them, and some are attacked by wild animals.

After a long and dangerous journey, Stella reached her destination — the Bidi Bidi Refugee Camp, one of the largest in the world. There, she was happy to find a foster family that agreed to take her in.

Unfortunately, their home wasn't the safe haven she'd envisioned. When her foster parents returned to South Sudan temporarily, Stella was left with her foster siblings, who made her life miserable.  “Their children were always mocking me and saying bad things,” Stella says, wiping away tears with a piece of fabric. “They said I should move away as I was not a member of their family.”

Then, she met a boy, who offered her an escape. So, when he asked her to marry him, she reluctantly agreed. And, because Stella was married, she dropped out of school.

Update: Stella has been able to return to school. But she faces stigma for having been married. "They call me a prostitute."

Update: Stella is no longer in school. And her new husband has abandoned her. She doesn't know where to turn.

The real cost of child marriage


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Get developments on Stella's story in our blog



Plan International USA (Plan) is a girls’ rights organization. Powered by supporters, we partner with adolescent girls and children around the world to overcome oppression and gender inequality, providing the support and resources that are unique to their needs and the needs of their communities, ensuring they achieve their full potential with dignity, opportunity and safety.
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Uganda, Kashata

Complications during childbirth and pregnancy are the leading cause of death for 15 to 19-year-old girls around the world. And, in crisis situations, harmful practices like child marriage, trafficking and gender-based violence skyrocket. Girls and young women living in overcrowded refugee camps are especially vulnerable.

Plan International has been fighting child marriage for a long time, and the pandemic isn’t stopping us. But girls like Stella need your support. There is no time to waste. If we want to protect girls from child marriage, we have to act fast.

What we're doing to help:

  • COVID-19 Response: We're working hard to keep girls and families safe and healthy. Plan is providing sanitation kits, building access to water and safe bathrooms, and working to end harmful practices like child marriage, trafficking and gender-based violence. Our emergency response programs address the immediate needs of girls, providing support to those who need it most. Over 67 million girls, children, adolescents, parents and community members have been reached by our global COVID-19 response.

  •  GirlEngage: The first and only approach letting girls lead the way, GirlEngage is a strategy that allows the girls themselves to drive our programs, from designing projects, to leading activities, to measuring success. Girls know the changes they need in their lives, and it’s up to us to listen and work with them, and for them, to make change happen.

  • Girls Learn & Thrive: With girls influencing the program every step of the way, Girls Learn & Thrive is providing access to quality and safe education, while helping communities learn the negative effects of child marriage. The program is giving girls the necessary tools to be heard and to make the change they want in their community.


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Children's Play Kit

Sanitation Kits

 Your Hygiene Kit will provide a girl with shampoo, bath soap, a toothbrush, bath cleaner, underwear and a comb.

Many girls and boys have never seen toys like these before — your gift will make such a difference in their life.

You can provide sanitation kits to struggling families with the essentials they need, including soap, detergent and lightweight water containers.

How can you help girls like Stella today...

Give a COVID-19 Response Gift of Hope

Life was difficult enough for refugee girls like Stella before COVID-19. Now, it's even harder. 

Vulnerable people find themselves in overcrowded camps, with severely limited access to clean water, soap and sanitation facilities. With over a quarter of a million people living in Bidi Bidi Camp, socially distancing is virtually impossible. Harmful practices like child marriage, trafficking and gender-based violence escalate in times of crisis. And the longer a girl is out of school, the less likely it is she'll ever return.

Girls like Stella urgently need your help now. They've endured so much, but they're still fighting for the future they deserve. Will you show them that they're not alone in this fight?

Give a lifesaving Gift of Hope!

One-third of girls in developing countries will marry before they turn 18. 

This is the true story of Stella, an adolescent girl from South Sudan, searching for peace.

Machine guns fire outside a school building. Children squeeze their eyes shut and hide beneath their desks, not knowing if they'll ever see the world again. When this is your life, all you can do is run. 


At first, Stella thought she had made the right decision. She was free from the cruelty of her foster siblings, and her husband treated her well. But, before long, her mother-in-law began tormenting her.

“She mocked me,” Stella says. “If I wanted to cook, she took things away from me. If I put food on the fire to cook and went to fetch firewood, when I came back, she had taken the wood off the fire.”

Then, it got worse — after only five months, Stella's husband abandoned her, going back to South Sudan with no explanation. The one person she had begun to rely on had turned his back on her.

Heartbroken and alone, Stella didn't know where to turn. 

Support finally came from an unlikely source — her foster parents returned to camp and discovered what had happened to her. They asked Stella to return home with them and helped her to re-enroll in school.

"My foster mother encouraged me to stay in school and told me that early marriage is not good."

But Stella's marriage followed her into the classroom. Girls who return to school after marriage often face stigma from their peers.

And now, because of COVID-19, schools in the Bidi Bidi refugee camp have been shut down. More than 80,000 children have been affected. Girls like Stella are caught in limbo.

Despite all of the hardships Stella has endured, she hasn’t given up hope. She's still fighting for the future she deserves. She dreams of becoming a nurse one day.

A Taste of Uganda

Immerse yourself in Ugandan culture — right from the comfort of your own kitchen — with this simple and tasty recipe for kashata, a popular East African brittle!


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"They call me a prostitute. Only a few are nice to me. The boys always tease girls who have been married and now are back in school. I only have one friend who I hang out with."

“In ten years’ time, I hope to have finished school. I hope to find that my life has changed.”

When schools shut their doors, adolescent girls like Stella are at the highest risk of never stepping foot inside the classroom again. But, together, we're doing all we can to change that.

With the support of donors like you, more girls have access to the educational materials they need to learn remotely. More communities understand the dangers of harmful practices, like child marriage, and the importance of education for all children. And, when schools reopen, more girls will have the chance to walk back in the classroom, instead of walking down the aisle.

Now more than ever, we need to show girls like Stella that they aren't alone. Their fight is our fight. Together, we will do all we can to ensure they won't be left behind.  

Follow developments on Stella's story here.