By: Brandy Campbell with Provashish Dutta   |   Posted: May 30, 2017

A teenager finds courage and support to reject a damaging, age-old tradition in her village.

Braving the Odds

A teenager finds courage and support to reject a damaging, age-old tradition in her village.

Written by Brandy Campbell with Provashish Dutta
Photography by Provashish Dutta
Sampatya looking through a window smiling
Sampatya would never call herself a hero. But the sari-clad 16-year-old has spent many of her teen years as a champion for children in poverty. She may not think of her bravery and wisdom as superpowers, but they are.

Because when Sampatya walks through her village in India, she is a hero to the little girls she passes. She is educated in a world where girls don’t go to school. She fights for justice in a world where she is supposed to be silent.

She is a conqueror in a world where women are the victims.

Sampatya didn’t set out to be a hero. When she was just 14, she overheard her parents discussing the marriage they had arranged for her. The teen was devastated. She had seen other girls in her village treated like property, married off to the highest bidder. There was no room for dreams in their new lives as they struggled to care for older husbands and a quick succession of babies.

This wasn’t the life Sampatya wanted. For years, she had attended a Compassion center in her community, where she learned that girls hold as much value as boys. That they can run as fast and learn as much. Her tutors at the center encouraged her in her studies, even while her own parents were reluctant to send her to school. When her mother and father made her skip classes to baby-sit her younger siblings, Sampatya simply studied harder to make up for the lost time.

Girls learning in class at university in India

Sampatya attends class at her local university, where she is studying to be a teacher.


Because once Sampatya learned that God had a plan for her, she refused to stop learning, growing and fighting.

The night she heard her parents discussing her arranged marriage, Sampatya knew she had to stand up for more than herself. She had to advocate for her classmates and peers. For her neighbors and friends. Perhaps most of all, for her younger sisters.

But Sampatya’s defiance had dire consequences.

“My parents would not talk to me properly and would not cook for me,” says Sampatya. “Although I lived with my parents under one roof, they treated me like a stranger and kept their distance from me, which was heartbreaking.”

Sampatya went to the only place she knew would support her decision — the Compassion center where she was a sponsored child. Both her tutor and the center’s director visited her parents, doing their best to convince them that marrying off Sampatya would have terrible long-term consequences for her.

Sam, the center director at the time, knew how critical it was to support the teen. He had already seen so many young girls, filled with potential and promise, disappear from Compassion’s program, only to find out later that they had been married off by their families.

“We had already lost more than 20 girls who were secretly married off by their parents,” says Sam. “And Sampatya could have been one of those girls. Her ambitions could have ended so easily had she not informed us in time about her [upcoming] marriage. We spent hours talking to her parents about her future.”

Eventually, Sampatya’s parents called off her marriage. Her relationship with them remains strained, but Sampatya says standing up for girls in her community was the right choice. Because of her example, the center conducted several awareness programs to educate village elders about the implications of child marriage. Progress was slow, but even if one girl was saved from an unwanted teen marriage, it was worth it for Sampatya and the staff.

Today, Sampatya is in college, majoring in humanities and studying to be a teacher. She wants to show girls that they hold more value than a dowry. That they have rights and a voice to speak out against injustice.

Now as Sampatya walks through the streets of her village, a swirl of girls’ whispers follows her.

There goes Sampatya. 

The girl who dares to dream. 

Our hero.