In schools around the world, history is primarily presented through the eyes of great male historical leaders – kings, philosophers, revolutionaries – to whom boys can look up. But where are the female role models to inspire generations of young women? An American organization, called “Strong Women, Strong Girls” (SWSG) has created an innovative program that tries to fill this gap. College women trained as mentors empower disadvantaged elementary school girls by introducing them to inspiring female role models from all fields and ages.
The idea behind ‘Strong Women, Strong Girls’ is to foster high aspirations and positive self-esteem among girls aged nine to 13 from disadvantaged backgrounds and to help them develop skills for accomplished lives. The organization was founded by Lindsay Hyde in her freshman year at Harvard University in 2000. Her inspiration came from her mother, who raised her as a single parent. “My mom cut the grass, paid bills, installed floor tiles. From watching her, it didn’t seem like there was anything a woman couldn’t do,” Hyde said. “I’ve always had someone around to tell me, ‘You can do it; I believe in you.’ I realized that that’s not something every girl has in her life.”
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In 2004, SWSG was incorporated as a non-profit organization, and until today, 1000 young girls have participated. SWSG has already partnered with 21 universities and colleges in the US, and appointed 200 college mentors at 64 different elementary school and community center partner sites in Boston, Pittsburgh and South Florida.
Now, for the first time, SWSG has launched its first international program, in Israel.
At the meetings, mentors usually start by introducing a certain skill, such as critical thinking and then learn about a female figure who exemplifies that skill. The female figures have included American civil rights activist Rosa Parks, former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir or even current-day women such as physicist Shirley Ann Jackson. At the end of the program, the girls are asked to create an actual project that can make a positive impact in their communities.
Tali Aziza and Saphira Tessler, two psychology majors at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center(IDC) in Herzliya, decided they wanted to bring SWSG to their country, after hearing Israeli Harvard Professor Tal Ben Shahar talk about the program’s remarkable results.
Tessler told NoCamels: “In Israel there is a strong need for [this sort of program]. In fact, Israel’s parliament has one of the lowest female representations in the world, but at the same time there are so many successful and encouraging female role models.
This semester, the two Israeli pioneers worked with 6 mentors and 14 girls aged 10 to 12 from a residential facility for children whose parents are unable to provide their children with the basic needs or provide them with tools for development and growth. “SWSG’s founder also started with six mentors and 14 girl,” said Aziza.
Planning to significantly expand their reach, Aziza and Tessler now hope they can find the same nation-wide success as their American role model, Lindsay Hyde.