At different times in our lives we make certain choices: schools, jobs, spouse, friends and a place of residence, to name a few. Making choices is a complex, delicate process - especially for teenagers-at-risk who suffer from a dearth of concrete role models, low self-esteem and often, difficult, unsupportive surroundings.
"Sometimes people are the victims of their own choices. We want to teach the girls of Otzmah 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," explains Cathy Sagie, head of WIZO's Family Welfare Division.
Over 100 proud and enthusiastic 9th grade girls and their parents recently gathered in WIZO's headquarters in Tel Aviv to mark the culmination of this year's Otzma Tzeira ("young strength" in English) project. The initiative was established in 2003 and quickly became a flagship program of WIZO Israel's Family Welfare Division. 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 14-16 year old girls from all over Israel, was recently updated for its 13th year.
In the framework of the program girls, who are chosen by their school advisors for participation, meet on a weekly basis at their local WIZO branches. 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.
This year's graduation ceremony displayed the individually and collectively-produced artwork that came out of the 11 Otzma Tzeira groups in this year's program. Each participating girl chose only one photograph to represent her at the touching event. "It is indicative of the program and the journey the girls underwent. Choices and choice-making is interwoven throughout the program. The girls' art reflects the empowerment, strength and sense of belonging that they received from the program. We gather the girls together tonight so that they can feel the strength of WIZO as a powerful international movement," remarked Sagie, who hopes to receive even more support for the project from WIZO federations and eventually, expand it.
"The program did wonders for my daughters. They learned how to write songs and in general, it totally changed them. I would like to thank the WIZO Kiryat Malachi branch for this amazing experience. My only wish is that it continues next year," said Yael Dorenbust, mother of twins May and Shir, who participate in Otzmah Tzeira.
"I learned how to express myself through song writing and how to boost my self-confidence. I also learned that when you want something - it can be attained. You always have to believe in yourself and not give up. Even if it doesn't work in the beginning, if you persist you will eventually succeed," added 15-year-old Maya Dorenbust.
Eden Gerzoy, a soft spoken 15-year-old from Migdal Haemek, always enjoyed photography, but her participation in the program gave her key insights about herself. "It's really as they say: a picture is worth a thousand words. I learned from the program that a photograph reflects the personality, qualities and feelings of the photographer. I also learned that I express myself and am understood better through my photography, something I would really like to continue doing in the future."
Eden's mother, Irina Gerzoy, admits that she was quite surprised by the significant changes she saw in her daughter as a result of Otzma Tzeira. "My daughter was able to open up and to express herself because of the program. I'm happy she made this choice and even happier to see how it made her grow. She started looking at things much differently, in a more mature manner," said Gerzoy.
Prof. Rivka Lazovsky, Chairperson of the World WIZO was very moved by the event and the exhibition that reflected WIZO's spirit. "This evening is full of pride and excitement. 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."