Over 300 proud and enthusiastic girls and their parents recently gathered in WIZO's headquarters in Tel Aviv to mark the culmination of another successful year of the Otzma Tzeira ("young strength") project. The initiative was established in 2003 and quickly became a flagship program of WIZO Israel's Family Welfare Division; it helps at-risk girls aged 13-18 who have suffered emotional traumas, social difficulties and dysfunction in the family, to express themselves artistically, develop a personal identity and learn to make better choices through group experiences and utilizing empowerment values, celebrates another successful year.
These girls, despite having suffered in one way or another, suffer invisibly. They are identified by their school counselors but do not receive treatment from the public school or health systems – leaving them open to unhealthy development in the future.
"Sometimes people are the victims of their own choices. We want to teach the girls of Otzma Tzeira the art of making choices - to be aware of the choices they make. Improving their decision-making processes and being aware of their personal choices is the essence of the Otzma Tzeira program," explained Cathy Sagie, head of WIZO's Family Welfare Division.
In the framework of this year's program, 16 groups of 15 girls, who are chosen by their school advisors for participation, met 15 times at their local WIZO branches across Israel. They take part in individual and group activities in order to develop awareness of their own personal, psychological and physical development, as well as to improve their decision-making skills. In order to enrich their coping strategies and building of personal identity, the program uses different forms of art therapy including photography, ceramics, music, drama and video. The theme of this year's projects was "educated choice," and focused on the challenges of the teenage years that every girl faces.
Sagie emphasizes that the Otzma Tzeira program reflects all of WIZO's core values: gender equality, women's empowerment, education and family welfare. The program, that serves, was recently updated for its 13th year.
This year's graduation ceremony displayed the individually and collectively-produced artwork that came out of the 15 Otzma Tzeira groups. "It is indicative of the program and the journey the girls underwent. Choices and choice-making is interwoven throughout all the sessions. The girls' art reflects the empowerment, strength and sense of belonging that they received."
The WIZO Modi'in Branch group of girls chose to work with photography. They learned both the technical aspects of photography as well as how to convey meaning through images and various viewpoints. Hila Ayash, a 13-year-old member of the group, fell in love with photography during the program and has gone on to participate in local photography competitions.
Prof. Rivka Lazovsky, Chairperson of World WIZO has been quoted as saying about the initiative, "Otzma Tzeira is one of our most important projects since it embodies one of our highest goals: to empower women, starting at a young age. It's very exciting to see the heights to which WIZO can lift these girls through art, which allows each participant to personally express herself. I applaud all the people involved in this wonderful program, who, in my opinion, are doing sacred work."