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Explore every opportunity that comes your way, says Dea Rrozhani

Written by Joanna Ng Published on 

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“I felt that I needed to show the girls that opportunities do exists”

Dea Rrozhani is the co-founder of GjejZâ, a mobile application built to stop gender-based violence in Albania and empower financial independence in women who are breaking out of unhealthy relationships. She is also the founder and mentor at Robotech, an American Corner Tirana Club, where children aged 10 to 14 learn the basics of programming and robotics. Read her first interview with us here.

To the girls of the future, be more confident in your abilities, and know that you are no less than anyone else. Be free in pursuing any opportunities that come your way, and continue to keep up the pace that we’ve built up.

What were you like at the age of 16?

Looking back at my teenage years, all I remember is the exciting times when I hung out with my friends, and the feelings of anguish from countless hours of studying. In other words, I never really thought about changing the world.

This was precisely the reason why my interest was piqued the moment I read about Dea on Forbes. In 2019, when she was 16, she and two teammates won the Technovation Grand Prize for their mobile application Gjejza. Inspired by the impact they set out to make, I reached out to Dea for an interview.

Many girls were not interested in technology

GjejZâ, the translated Albanian name for “find your voice,” was designed by Dea and her teammates, Arla and Jonada, to stop gender-based violence in Albania, where there are deep patriarchal societal roots. The team’s concern is the normalization of gender-based violence in their society, and how young people are developing unhealthy relationships. The app was built with the aim to empower, inform, and enable women to take action.

Prior to the interview, Dea had mentioned to me that when she joined Technovation at the age of 12, there were barely any girls in Albania who were interested in technology. I wondered where her passion for coding and robotics came from.

“It’s so fascinating how something so random can turn out to be a huge change in my life,” Dea says. “There were youth spaces in Albania that were provided by the US Embassy at the American Corner, where I was a frequent visitor. My mom had told me about the new program on technology, but I was like, ‘No, it doesn’t seem very interesting.’ While I didn’t outright refuse to go, I didn’t see myself in coding or technology that much. However, my mom encouraged me by saying there is also a mix of business in this new program, so I might like it.”

Eventually, Dea ended up trying out that program. As she said, “With every opportunity that comes your way, it is very important to take it and explore it first. If you don’t like it, you can always leave it. But if you do, you could discover a really great passion or an inner calling.”

Joining Technovation turned out to be Dea’s inner calling. Although she had no background in technology, she immersed herself in code and studied the techniques of building software. Using a small laptop she found at home, she completed tutorials and showed her parents what she was able to do. Coding was a truly fascinating experience for her, and she started to participate in the Technovation challenge every year. The event encouraged young coders to apply their skills and solve real world problems.

“The entire experience really shaped me as a person, and it made me very conscious about the problems in my community,” Dea shares with me. This was how GjejZâ came into existence, and how Dea eventually became a student ambassador and mentor at Technovation.

During the interview, I felt that Dea’s experience in coding was one where her parents played an important role. They encouraged her to be curious. Even though most people are wired to wonder about the world around them, the demand for efficiency and constant bombardment of information has caused many of us to stop asking questions. Yet Dea managed to hold onto that curiosity and eventually make a real impact in her society. This was why I was so deeply inspired by her.

Presenting proof of opportunities

During our conversation, Dea shared her experience in founding and mentoring at Robotech, where children aged 10 to 14 learn the basics of programming and robotics. The idea came about when she was presenting her robotic arm project, and was offered the chance to establish her own American Corner to teach other girls about robotics.

“As a child, I’ve always loved teaching and sharing knowledge. The moment someone understood a concept, it is a really incredible and world-defining moment for me—I wanted others to see it like that as well.” Dea has a huge smile on her face as she tells me, “I was actually very nervous. I was only 14, and that was a lot of responsibility. But I was working with girls my age (and some who were older than me), and I felt like I needed to show them that opportunity exists. What if another girl came by and found her inner calling in technology, just as I did?”

The Robotech club was a place for young girls to explore the tech world. For Dea, the last few sessions are the most memorable part of this experience: “Whatever projects that they’ve built from what they’ve learnt, you could see how their eyes sparkled when it worked. That’s when I realized that I’ve actually achieved my mission.”

Since she had mentored so many girls who are around her own age, I was curious about whether she had noticed a change in how Albanian girls view technology. She thinks there has been a shift.

“When I entered Technovation at 12, there were probably only five girls and some of them abandoned the program halfway,” Dea says. “However, we started to see change throughout the years. There were around 10 girls in the second year, and the popularity of the program grew. Last year, I think we reached the record of over 100 participants in Albania. We are just so glad that the word has spread, and that there is a change in a society where girls are generally not encouraged to pursue such fields.”

Starting small to make huge changes

Before I end the interview, I ask Dea what she would like to see in girls of Albania’s next generation. She has measured expectations. “We’ve come a long way already, and what I would really love to see is for the future generations to keep up this pace. It would be great for girls to be more confident in their abilities and view themselves as equals to boys in any field. Personally, I hope to gain all the knowledge I can in my field and use it to bring impact at a larger scale.”

If you were to ask me how I felt throughout the interview, the word I would use to describe my feelings would be “amazed.” In Singapore, we often say that we live in a small, peaceful bubble because young people here rarely face any radical changes in society. I feel deeply inspired by this mature teenage girl from Albania, who has had the courage to pursue and outdo herself to make a difference in her society.

We often see changes in society when it happens, but most of the time, these shifts start small and require incredible, consistent efforts from those who believe in the cause.

WRITTEN BY

Joanna Ng

Joanna Ng is the Community Coordinator at KrASIA.

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