“I wish I were a boy!” Artjola exclaimed to her mother when she was a little girl.
Growing up in Albania, she saw that boys had more freedom than girls. She loved playing football, but her parents told her it was a sport for boys ... not girls.
“There were times when I was angry and cried to myself, but I did not hesitate to tell them … that I love football, and I do not want to give up on it,” Artjola says.
She also saw girls get married young without being able to pursue an education, and she saw girls subjected to violence.
Artjola was determined to change things, but she wasn’t sure how.
This is when she decided to enrol in our child sponsorship programme, and started writing letters to her sponsor.
“The letters he sent me gave me hope to overcome the mentality of my community,” she says.
“After many years in the programme and after I reached the age, I phased out from the programme, but I still keep my sponsor's letters because they are of great value to me," Artjola continues.
Participating in World Vision activities also made her aware of her rights, and the responsibilities that she has - to raise her voice for herself, her peers and her community.
“My future was not early marriage nor experiencing violence, as happened in many cases around me,” she says. “Rather, studying and having a career was my dream.”
Artjola also discovered that by using her voice, she could lead real change in her community.
One day, when she was a teenager, a girl she had known since kindergarten confided in her that she was about to be married. It was an arranged marriage and she didn’t want to take part.
Artjola encouraged the girl to speak up to her parents. She did - they listened and postponed the marriage for two more years until she was at least a legal adult.
Artjola is now 22 and continuing to advocate for change as an intern with World Vision.
She says girls need to break the invisible barriers without violence, but always with kindness and strength.
“For the rest of my life, I will take with me all that I have learned here; to raise my voice against injustice.”
And today, Artjola has changed her thoughts on being a girl.
“I am happy to be a girl. … We girls can do better things and create new opportunities for ourselves.”