During the first week of March, twenty inspiring WIZO woman came to Israel as part of WIZOuk's Chairmans' Mission to celebrate International Women's Day and WIZOuk's Centenary. This trip's itinerary, which was carefully planned by World WIZO's Leadership and Global Relations Division, focused on the women of Israel through the lens of gender equality, with a special emphasis on WIZO's work that touches all areas of Israeli society.
The Mission kicked-off with a program entitled 'Against all odds, changing lives with rehabilitation' which included a visit to Neve Tirtza (Israel's only female prison and rehabilitation centre). The participants then experienced WIZO's work in rehabilitation with an emotional visit to the Gina Fromer Women and Childrens' Shelter, a safe haven for victims of domestic violence. Alison Rodol, one of the mission's participants, commented that the shelter was run by “driven angels”.
At Neve Tritza
The issue of 'Gender equality, woman's leadership in the security forces' was explored via a special visit to an Israeli Air Force Base where they spoke with a female Combat Pilot and Navigator. She shared her insights into the morality of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) during missions and how she had experienced difficulty as the only female in her squadron and the complex relationships that she has developed with her male squadron members. This experience gave the visitors personal insight into the lives of women serving in the security forces.
At the Rebbeca Seif Centre for the Family, the WIZOuk flagship project, they toured the Vocational School and experienced all the tracks of study the 'School of Dreams' has to offer. "All the WIZO projects we saw demonstrated the total dedication of the staff who gives us so much more than their professionalism. The love and committed they give is just outstanding”, mission participant Leslie Rose said.
The Mission also visited Kibbutz Kfar Aza (near the border with Gaza) and heard the stories of the resilience of Israeli women living and raising families in such close proximity to constant danger. Female soldiers from Nahal Oz Army Base spoke with the group about their vital intelligence gathering using drones and demonstrated launching a drone. Their work is vital for protecting the Gaza fringe communities when under attack.
WIZOuk left a lasting tribute to the women of Kfar Aza in the form of a beautiful Mandala, which they painted on the outside of a bomb-shelter, a facility, unfortunately, all too often used. Residents have just 15 seconds to enter the shelter once the air raid siren is heard. The next day there were rockets fired from Gaza, bringing home the harsh reality to the participants, making the previous days visit even more poignant.
The Mandala at Kfar Aza
Exploring 'Social leadership, women spearheading change', the women visited the WIZO Daliat el-Carmel Branch, met with Druze women striving for empowerment within their community and learnt about the Druze culture – one of the many minority groups that make up the fabric of Israeli society.
At WIZO Daliat el-Carmel
Through the lens of 'Understanding through diversity, working towards peace' the Mission joined the head guide of Givat Haviva, an International school for shared peace and learning centre that aims to build an inclusive, socially cohesive society in Israel by engaging divided communities in collective conversation, and heard from a panel of young students from around the world.
The Mission concluded with a visit to WIZO Hadassim Youth Village where they met with the educators, housemothers, two incredibly inspirational students and had the privilege to meet Taylor Hogg from Philadelphia who has been a constant volunteer, coming for three months a year, for the past 27 years. In the run up to International Women's Day, the Mission took home the message, as given by the students at Hadassim that the power for change comes from within. One participant, Caroline Freedman said, "Listening to all the young people who have now got the confidence to have huge ambitions and dreams that are possible to fulfill [through WIZO], will stay with me."
During their tour of the campus, the group was touched by the authenticity, love and care for the students that was so plain to see in the staff and teachers at Hadassim. The Mission's participants feelings of belonging in WIZO mirrored the sense of security and belonging that the two girls spoke with about regarding Hadassim, their home. They all left with inspiration and enthusiasm for Israel and for WIZO. "I cannot wait to go back to UK and inspire others and encourage our young generation to join us and make society and the world a better place", Dr. Kate Shnelling said
Claudette Brown, a WIZOuk Commitment Award Winner for Impacting the Future for her work with The Passage, a London based charity, also joined the Mission. "I will never forget what my eyes have witnessed nor what my ears have heard. Israel is a beautiful country with people working hard for its future. Stay strong and continue to fight the good fight."
"I cannot begin to describe the impact of this mission," WIZO UK Chairman Ronit Ribak Madari said. "It was a wonderful week spent with strong, intelligent women, each one of whom will return to the UK with a burst of inspiration to continue their vital WIZO work across the UK."