Giving back with the gift of knowledge.
That is what 16-year-old Brooklyn Technical High School student Dea Kurti has done. In addition to her studies and countless responsibilities and activities at her school, in July, 2017, she also founded Novel Girls, a non-profit that hosts book drives, and sends books about STEM or women empowerment to schools and libraries around the world.
Kurti, who spent four years of her childhood in Albania, was inspired by her parents who are immigrants from there.
“Growing up in New York, it’s a very active type of place and I never felt disconnected from the world because of being a woman but I know that little girls out there don’t have the same feeling and don’t feel empowered or liberated due to their countries and whatever it may be,” she said. “My parents are both immigrants from Albania and I hear stories from them. They didn’t grow up like I did. My family on both sides were denied education. There were things that stopped them from being able to have access to education so that’s what inspired me.”
She started the non-profit at Brooklyn Tech, which was easy, she said, due to its large student body and her enthusiastic friends.
Kurti, now a junior, came up with the idea a year ago and has already been able to raise a lot of money.
“The big drive was in November in my school. We raised $30,000 for books so that was a really big milestone and really exciting to see so many kids excited to help,” she said. Not only that, ” People reached out and were like, ‘Hey we want to start it at our school.’ Most are in New York City, but there are couple upstate and out of state.”
Kurti is in student government, which helped her spread the idea. She was also aided by one of the school’s assistant principals, who she approached with the idea. “I told Ms. [Kelly] Nottingham the idea and she loved it,” Kurti recalled. “She said, ‘Let’s do it’ and that’s when it took off. I have a lot of people helping me with it, volunteers helping with packing and shipping and receiving donations.”
Kurti’s parents also helped out.
“When I told them about the idea, they actually went to Albania and hand-delivered [boxes of] books to schools where I have cousins,” she said. “They were really happy about it. They’re proud.”
Kurti’s main motivation was hearing about those less fortunate, especially in Albania. “It made it feel like I had to give back,” she said. “It felt more like a moral obligation than something to do for fun.”
Novel Girls is currently sending books to Albania, Ukraine, the Philippines and India. Books will be sent to South Africa and Thailand following the next book drive.
So far, the feedback has been very positive.
“I get a lot of emails,” Kurti said. “The people in these countries don’t have a lot of internet access so it’s difficult but I have received some. Also, some schools send thank-you cards and photos, and that makes me really happy.”
Balancing her studies and activities — including being speaker of the school assembly and a member of the varsity volleyball and chess teams — with getting Novel Girls off the ground has been challenging.
“But there are 24 hours in a day,” she said.
Kurti plans to continue Novel Girls when she heads to college to study biotechnology. A website that will allow people from all over the country to contribute is in the works.
“If you want to make a difference, just go for it,” she said. “You can start small. Just go out there and try it.”