From: Robin Suerig Holleran
Albanian Village Teen Travels to United States to Help Empower Girls

Anxhela Kola, a teenage girl from a tiny village outside Burrel, left a big impression when she recently visited the United States. She was chosen by the Save the Children organization from many applicants across the globe to speak to panels at the United Nations in New York, Capitol Hill and the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

Anxhela was nominated for the 2019 International Children’s Peace Prize 2019, that was ultimately given to Great Thunberg of Sweden and Divina Maloum of Cameroon.

And she was scheduled to return to New York again this spring to make another presentation, but those plans were interrupted by the COVID pandemic.

Overcoming many obstacles

Her family struggles to put bread on the table. Since her mother left home with her youngest brother when she was six years old, Anxhela had to take on the role of the woman of the house and care of her unemployed father and another brother. In addition, she had to walk one hour in each direction in all types of weather to get to schoolin Burrelto get an education.

This was no small feat in a part of Albania where girls are not always educated but are sometimes forced into marriage at a young age. She joined the Burrel-based Save the Children chapter when she was 13, hesitantly at first because she was unsure if her father would approve and allow her to attend. Before long, she becamea an active member and worked hard to try to make a difference for Albanian youth.

The Dutch organization KidsRights commended Anxhela on her positivity and her work with the child-led Save the Children “Voice 16+” group that aims to empower children to have their rights respected in school, family and community. At school level, Anxhela worked to increase parents’ interest in their children’s education and tried to reduce the number of girls dropping out of school. At her community level, Anxhela was part of the children advisory group to the local Municipality Council,was consulted on children’s issues and tried to influence local government decisions during the municipal budgeting process. At the national level, the Albanian Parliament appointed the first commissioner of Child Rights Protection and Promotion Section in part due to her lobbying efforts.

Standing up and speaking out

Then, about a year ago, she produced a video describing the male-dominated culture of northern Albania where many girls are forced to stay home once they turn 15—and the importance of education for improving a woman’s economic and social standing as well as reducing domestic violence. Save the Children was impressed with what the then-16 year oldAnxhela had to say, and invited her to share her thoughts with representatives from various organizations in the United States.

“Girls don’t have as many chances to do things just because they are girls. They often don’t have the courage to speak up, even when something is very important to them,” Anxhela said. ”When girls overcome barriers and empower, they are able to lead, influence and inspire the world for a better life for all.”


Speaking and listening to world leaders

During the International Day of the Girl events in New York and Washington, Anxhela shared her views and brought the voice of Albanian girls to others from around the world. She mingled with Emmy-winning film producer Lisa Russell, renown journalists, a female student from Harvard University, and others from worlds far different than those she knew in her rural community in the mountains.

In New York, she participated in the Girls Speak Out event at the United Nations, served as one of the leaders on a UNICEF panel, and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge as part of the Save the Children Bridge the Gap for Girls walk.

In Washington, D.C. she met with members of the U.S. Congress who advocate for girls’ rights. Anxhelaalso spoke at the World Bank Group Learning Poverty event and spoke about how children and youth are the future.

“When we are educated, we are the ones who can make change happen, and make the world a better place,” she said.Her “30 Second Challenge”video is posted of the World Bank YouTube channel.

Anxhela was also part of a panel with Word Bank Group President David Malpass, Save the Children UK CEO Kevin Watkins, Vice President of Human Development of World Bank Group Annette Dixon, Ghana Senior Minister, Morocco Minister of Economy and Mayor of Sobral, Brazil and moderator Kaya Henderson, former Chancellor of the Washington, DC schools.Anxhelathen participated in a World Bank Facebook Live interview on the importance of leadership by girls and children at school and community levels.

“I loved the energy in New York and how fast the lifestyle is,” she said. “But I’m used to living in nature and know where I am by the mountains around me. When you look up in New York, you see just buildings. It was hard to get oriented.”