Sunday, March 11, 2007

The IDF's Young Girl Project Gives New Hope to Troubled Teens

"I intend on replacing my Gadna tags with officers' ranks in the future"
Tuesday March 6, 2007 10:21
IDF Spokesperson

"I am so proud of them," said Oli Zamir-Davidovitch while watching a group of emotional girls gather for a ceremony held to honor their achievements. "I had doubts about some of these girls, about whether they were going to make it. But they all succeeded!"

The girls Oli is referring to are a group from across Israel, all of who grew up in difficult environments, often without parents caring for them and without a true home to come back to. Due to a lack of care and direction from home, the girls deteriorated to a way of life consisting of idleness, laziness and often even crime. They never studied in school - most dropped out - thereby greatly limiting their options for the future. The girls were found to be lacking in qualifications for enlistment by the IDF recruiting offices, a rare evaluation for all enlistees - eleventh and twelfth graders - who report to the army recruiting offices for examinations.

The Young Girl Project offered the girls a way to bring themselves out of the difficult lives they were leading. As part of the project, the girls studied and specialized in a multitude of subjects in a course recognized by the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor.

The next stage in the program was the opportunity to experience army service despite their lack of qualifications and low scores. The girls were taken to a Gadna, a pre-military course resembling a regular soldier's Basic Training, as a trial period to test whether they are fit to serve in the military.

Each year hundreds of girls report to the Gadna course. Only a few are unsuccessful and not recommended to serve in the army. Most, however, complete the course and continue to regular service in the IDF. Some even continue to serve as officers.

Oli Zamir-Davidovitch is one of the social workers who have accompanied the girls since the beginning of the process. Last Thursday (01/03/07) she looked on with pride as the girls, "her girls" as she refers to them, celebrated the completion of their Gadna in an emotional ceremony.
"Some of these girls were underestimated and never received help for their learning disabilities," Oli said. "They were therefore unjustly discharged from education institutions, and never given an opportunity. The objective of the program is that the girls will undergo a process that will repair negative experiences in their lives; that will correct their feelings of being excluded, of rejection, of abandonment, of lack of worth."

"During this week the girls undergo a simulation of Basic Training and everything that it entails: uniforms, weapon lessons, shooting ranges," said Corporal Shiri, a commander in the Gadna pre-military course. "At the end of this week we write our opinion on the girls' behavior as soldiers and on how they coped with this week based on several criteria that we examine; this opinion determines whether the girl is fit for service in the IDF. We want to prevent the girls from being discharged from another system, to prevent them from another feeling of failure. These girls truly do want to enlist, and this is their opportunity after the IDF signed for their exemption from service."

"During my examinations at the recruiting office I didn't answer any of the questions, and so I was exempted from army service," said Alisa Tasat, a member of the Young Girl Project who completed the Gadna along with dozens of other girls. "At the time I didn't feel like studying, I didn't feel like listening to anybody, I didn't feel like doing anything. The beginning in the Gadna was extremely difficult."

Ruth Hazan, a fellow member of the program, had much difficulty with adapting to military life in the beginning. "Being part of this system came as a huge shock. It was very difficult, even just to get up early every morning after having not gone to school for the past two years."
Not without the commanders

"Every institution these girls have been a part of in the past has given up on them," said Corporal Yael, a Gadna commander. "Here they have no choice; no one is going to let them escape. In the beginning it was very hard for them to grasp this, that there are no concessions here."
And so the girls endured a week of harsh discipline filled with lessons about the military and lessons pertaining to life. They learned how to give respect and salute their senior commanders.

They were taught lessons about Israel's history and past battles and wars and they underwent weapons training. Most of all they learned how to face their difficulties and conquer them rather than give up on themselves.

"I named one of the girls, Yulia, as my deputy, which means that I gave her a certain responsibility in order to show her that I have faith in her and that the rest is up to her," said Yulia's commander, Corporal Benny. "She took the responsibility very seriously. All week she stood out in an exceptional way, whether in the girls' assignments, or in attempts to raise the other girls' spirits and try to help them. The special thing about this story is that her teacher from school told us horrible stories about her. She told us that Yulia has many problems and that she is a great disturbance in class. All of a sudden, when she was given responsibility she realized her own significance and her own capabilities."

"It made me feel great satisfaction and pride in these girls. When you express your faith in them they perform unbelievably; they just come from an extremely difficult background."
Getting by with a little help from my friends

"This project helped even just by allowing me the opportunity to meet new girls, to connect to new people instead of the people who dragged me down to the horrible situation I was in," Alisa Tasat said. "We became best friends, even more than that."

"One of the girls here also started the Gadna last year, and left on the third day. This Tuesday she wanted to leave as well, but no one let her give up. We sat with her until 2 AM and didn't let her leave. She cried and we told her 'you are staying.' In the end, she completed the course with all of us."

Despite her difficulties in the Gadna, Alisa is determined to enlist in the IDF. "The fact that I overcame these difficulties made me realize how mature I am, that I can advance in life and really succeed. I really want to enlist because I believe that service in the IDF is a unique experience, a one-time opportunity. I hope that I can also become an officer and serve more than just regular service," the hopeful future soldier said.

Alisa's fellow cadet in the Gadna, Ruth Hazan, is just as ambitious about her military service. "This is our country and it is our duty to serve in our army, the army of the people," she said. "I live in Sderot, something which has instilled in me an awareness of our army and the immediate consequences of its actions. This is part of the reason I wanted to enlist and take part in this effort."
"I would like to serve in a substantial position, but I would be happy to contribute in any role," Ruth said. "Even the smallest role is significant. For example, serving in the army's discount convenience store is important in that someone has to provide hungry and thirsty soldiers with whatever they need, or revive soldiers who just completed guard duty or an operation. Every role in the IDF is substantial, and we must not underestimate anyone."

"I have a lot of ambition and a lot of strength. I am very excited for the future. I may not have Gadna tags on my epaulets anymore but I intend on replacing them with officers' ranks in the future."