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Tara Stella Deetjen

Stella Deetjen(*1970) is a development worker from Germany. Supporting poor and marginalized people through the non-profit organization Back to Life e.V. has become Stella’s life’s work.

Leprosy Relief in India

After a fateful encounter with a leprosy patient in 1994, Stella Deetjen set up a street clinic for leprosy patients in Benares (Varanasi), India, during a backpacking trip through Asia at the age of 24 with 100 dollars in start-up capital. Their work on the ground aims at restoring the dignity of the severely stigmatized people and their families.

From therapy to rehabilitation – it is a long way for about 200 untouchables back to life, which is why Stella has been living on site since the beginning of the project. She has a close relationship of trust with her leprosy patients and delves deeply into the lives of the untouchables. In 1998 Stella became a mother to a now grown-up son who grew up mainly in India and Nepal and is now studying in Germany. The resistance of Indian society to leprosy relief is great, the better-off see the untouchables as the dregs of their society and throw stones in Stella’s way wherever they can. Threats as well as physical attacks on the early twenties are almost the order of the day.

Nevertheless, she stays in India for years and runs three children’s homes where 120 former street children, especially those with a leprosy background, grow up over the next 20 years. After graduating from school, the young people continue to receive support so that they can complete vocational training. In 2017, the projects in India will come to an end.

Departure to Nepal

Stella Deetjen turns her attention to Nepal and sets up new projects. India has developed strongly economically in the past decade that she has spent there, in contrast to the impoverished neighbouring country of Nepal. Stella’s goal is to help people where the need is greatest and where there is no chance of improving living conditions without outside help. Therefore, she quickly decided to accept the challenge and help in the poorest area of the country, the Karnali region. In the high mountain region of Mugu with a population of 55,000 people, she is implementing her new project of “helping people to help themselves” with a focus on improved educational opportunities, hygiene and health, environmental and resource protection, agricultural programmes and income generation.

Stella lives with her son in Kathmandu, where he attends school. Her life is divided between project visits and the annual trips to Germany. There she organises numerous personal meetings with supporters of the association, in the early years exclusively private individuals and friends as well as acquaintances. Over the years, it has succeeded in expanding the circle step by step and building up a solid financial basis for the continuation of the projects.

Earthquake disaster and reconstruction

After the devastating earthquakes in 2015, Back to Life immediately provides aid on the ground. Stella Deetjen is currently in Germany during the earthquake and is able to pass on first-hand information to the public immediately after the tragic disaster in the TV shows of “Markus Lanz” as well as “Bettina und Bommes” and to generate donations for emergency aid and reconstruction. Immediately, an enormous reconstruction project begins. In addition, the other project activities continue, a heavy burden for the team under difficult conditions. A total of 10 schools will be built in Nuwakot, Chitwan and Lalitpur by 2017 – a huge success for the association.

Stella is particularly pleased that Fabian Hambüchen won the ZDF show “I can do that” in 2016 and thus financed the reconstruction of the primary school in Bhaduwar. A personal encounter between the two sparked the generous donation.

Founder of the projects and managing director

Stella Deetjen is the managing director of the association. Based on personal recommendations and transparent reporting, the association now generates EUR 1.5 million in donations per year. 65,000 people benefit from Back to Life’s work in Nepal today. From Kathmandu Stella leads the project work of the association with a team of 88 Nepali staff.
Milestones of the project work since 2009 in Nepal:
    • 15 birthing centres ensure safe births in the high mountains where there is no medical care.
    • 36 school buildings with 116 earthquake-resistant classrooms built.
    • 4,500 students with improved educational opportunities.
    • The first sponsored children pass their school-leaving exams, and more and more sponsored children achieve a school-leaving qualification.
    • Clean energy for 1/3 of the Mugu mountain region (total 55,000 people).
    • Health Camps for a total of 29,434 people where there are no doctors.
    • 13 communities connected to water systems and 7 more in the planning stages.

A Voice for Nepal in Germany

In Germany, Stella Deetjen is the face of the association. Officially, she represents Back to Life, but she also sees herself as a voice for ethnic minorities, as well as women and children in Nepal. She appears in various media and also gives private or public multimedia lectures at the invitation of event organisers.

She has already been a guest on numerous TV shows (including Beckmann, Tietjen and Hirschhausen, Markus Lanz, NDR talk show, Planet Wissen, Kölner Treff, Menschen hautnah, DAS!, Bettina und Bommes, 3nach9) and has been heard on various radio shows (including hr3- Bärbel Schäfer Live, hr2-Doppelkopf, Bayern2-Eins zu Eins, Bayern3-Mensch Theile, WDR5-Neugier genügt).

Besides many articles in the print media, three full-page articles about Stella and her work have been published in the FAZ in the section “Germany and the World”: on 30.09.2004 “Star in Benares”, on 09.03.2006 “Voice of the Outcast” and on 26.11.2010 “Star of the Forgotten”. In the December 2015 issue, FAZ magazine printed the first chapter of her book “Unberührbar” (Krüger Fischer) even before it was published.

Stella cites meeting Mother Teresa in 1997, the Dalai Lama in 1994, several meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev in 2006, and a 2016 meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican as special moments in her life.


  • 2006:
    „Women’s World Award“ in New York, presented by Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • 2006:
    „Elisabeth-Norgall-Preis“, awarded by the International Women’s Club of Frankfurt
  • 2007:
    „Goldene Bild der Frau“, awarded by the magazine of the same name.
  • 2007:
    „Frauenlauf Award“, presented by the Austrian Women’s Run GesnbR
  • 2015:
    „Holzisch Latern“, award of the Dieburg carnival association
  • 2018:
    „Goldenes Lot“, award of the Association of Deutscher Vermessungsingenieure e.V.
  • 2019:
    „Trophée de femmes national“ environmental prize awarded by the Fondation Yves Rocher. Stella wins for Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
  • 2019:
    „Grand Prix International Trophée de femmes“ of the Fondation Yves Rocher. Stella wins the International Environmental Award with her projects.

In 2017 Stella took over the school sponsorship within the project “School without Racism – School with Courage” of the Adolf-Reichwein-Gymnasium in Heusenstamm and held several lectures and discussion rounds there.

In addition, Stella Deetjen’s biography and life’s work is listed in several German textbooks, such as “Bausteine Grundschule” 5/2008 from Bergmoser + Höller Verlag.

Back to Life e.V.