From Nahariya in the north to Eilat in the south, over 200 energetic teenage girls from 14 cities across Israel came together at WIZO's headquarters in Tel Aviv to celebrate the conclusion of another successful year of the Otzma Tzeira ("Young Strength") project.
Established in 2003, the initiative, which is a flagship program of WIZO Israel's Family Welfare Division, is a social educational program that helps at-risk teenage girls 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.
Otzma Tzeira's social and emotional reinforcement program deals with issues of adolescence with a gender emphasis via artistic tools such as: theater, music, photography and cinema. During the celebratory evening, the girls all presented their final projects from the program.
"These girls, despite having suffered in one way or another, suffer invisibly," Cathy Sagie, head of WIZO's Family Welfare Division explained. "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."
In the framework of the program, groups of 15 girls, who were chosen by their school advisors for participation, met 15 times at their local WIZO branches across Israel. They took 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 girls in the Otzma Tzeira theater group rehearse.
"The program focuses on the challenges that every teenage girl faces." Sagie said. "Otzma Tzeira enables these young teenage girls to develop a safer personal-feminine identity, to find their inner voice through the use of artistic tools."
Sagie emphasized that the Otzma Tzeira program reflects all of WIZO's core values: gender equality, women's empowerment, education and family welfare.
Otzma Tzeira: Regaining Their Voice
Liora (not her real name) is a 14 year-old ninth grade student from Kiryat Malachi. She was a good student in elementary school. However, when she made the transition to junior high, she wanted to be in the theater track, but she was afraid the other students would mock her when she had to get up on stage and perform an audition that included a monologue and a song. Due to her fear, she dropped her ambition to study in the theater track and soon lost interest in her studies. She began to distance herself from classmates and for the next two years of school, throughout 7th and 8th grade, she did not go out with friends, she had no one to talk to at school, and she did not go to class parties. Liora did not want her parents to interfere and refused their attemps to help her. She was all alone. For ninth grade she moved to a different class but that did not help either.
Everything changed when her school counselor told her about Otzma Tzeira. Her mother reported that once she started the program her daughter began to sing at home. For the last few years her daughter had simply stopped singing and and now, thanks to Otzma Tzeira, she found her singing voice again. "For me," Liora says, "Otzma Tzeira is first and foremost a group of girls who listened to me and loved me. This project has enabled me to rediscover my talents and my dreams."
"Thanks to Otzma Tzeira, girls find their lost voice again, discover their own unique female voice, and become aware of the endless choices they have," Sagie said.
A girl from Otzma Tzeira Afula closed the program with an amazing rendition of the Beyonce song "Runnin".
The Power of Otzma Tzeira
The success of the program is evident. One girl wished to enter a local photography competition, but her parents discouraged her from competing for fear she would not be able to withstand the tension that accompanied the competition. However, through her participation in Otzma Tzeira, she took a picture that reached the finals.
Thanks to Otzma Tzeira, another girl had the courage to run for youth office and won the position of Deputy Chairman of the Municipal Student Council.
Yet another girl who learned photography via Otzma Tzeira, had a photo she took in the program chosen by a major Israeli law firm as the picture for their Passover greeting card to their clients
A photograph of one of the girls from the Otzma Tzeira photography group from Nahariya taken by another girl in the group.
"Otzma Tzeira is one of our most important projects," Prof. Rivka Lazovsky, Chairperson of World WIZO said. "It embodies one of our highest goals: to empower women, starting at a young age. It's so 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 those involved in this wonderful program."