Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Mighty Fingers- Facing Change is a two-part experiential art project designed to engage and inspire adolescent girls worldwide. Starting November 11th, 2012, a group of women, including me, will be traveling to fifteen to twenty locations around the world to create a collaborative piece of art with adolescent girls in effort to empower and unify them (maybe insert photo of Mighty Fingers here?). As we travel around the world during the next year, I will be writing about female friendships in different cultures around the world from a teenage girl perspective.
In preparation for the project launch on November 6th I met with a seventeen-year-old girl from Afghanistan who is studying in the United States.  We discussed everything; life and death, family and friends, war and peace. In regard to friendships I asked her these questions:

·      What do you and your friends like to do for fun?
·      How do you choose who to be friends with?
·      When girls have relationship problems/friendship difficulties/drama in your country, what is it most often about? 

After hearing her answers I thought about how drastically different they would from the average American girl, so I asked the same questions to a sixteen-year-old girl from New Jersey.

When the girl from Afghanistan was asked: “What do you and your friends like to do for fun?” she explained that there isn’t much socialization outside the family. Girls get sold off to a man once they go through puberty and they then become his property.
“When we are little we do normal things like swing and chase each other, but once girls reach puberty they don’t spend much time together.” Sometimes families will have parties and once everyone is gathered the girls and the boys separate and girls make conversation with each other until the party is over. Girls do not watch movies because it is uncomfortable or embarrassing to see women from other cultures who act so differently than they do.”
When I asked a teenaged girl from New Jersey what she does with her friends for fun she said: “We do whatever. We watch movies, walk around town, go get coffee.”

The question: “How do you choose who to be friends with?” was answered very differently by both girls as well. In Afghanistan, oftentimes girls do not choose their friends and will spend time with close families or relatives at parties but they do not really develop extremely close relationships outside of the family. “For many teenage girls in Afghanistan something to be proud of would be how rich your husband is,” the young woman I interviewed said.
Unlike Afghanistan, choosing new friends in the United States is very common among teenage girls.
“Friends come and go, they don’t always last too long so deciding to be friends with someone is not a huge deal,” the 16 year old girl from New Jersey explained. “I’ll be friends with anybody that I can relate to or has a good personality.”

In Afghanistan, girls do not have many girl-to-girl relationship problems because they are usually inside, with their husbands. Most relationship problems are between the husband and wife, and they are kept inside the family because telling people would be disrespectful to the family. When girls and women are being mistreated by their husbands and they try to seek help, people often find out about it and the problem gets worse.
If the girls or women are caught trying to get away from their husbands they are publically stoned to death. According to my source from Afghanistan, this system ends up causing many girls to choose suicide over living with the brutality in their marriage.
“It is common for girls to cover themselves in petrol and light themselves on fire,” she explained.
In the United States, most fights or drama between girls are about boys.
“It’s always about a boy,” my interviewee stated. “If one girl wants a boy and another girl does too they can never be friends.” Girls are also much more vocal about their difficulties In the United Sates, “There are never any secrets, things always gets out and it always causes a lot of drama.” she said.

Girls in the United States are vocal because they have the freedom to be. This was a freedom that was hard earned by the women who came before us. There are brave girls in Afghanistan fighting for these freedoms right now but it has to be done in a much more secretive manner to avoid death threats and persecution. The entire conversation was incredibly interesting and it made me look at my own life in a new light. It made me realize how lucky most girls from the United States are to be able to choose their own friends, their own husbands, and their own path in life.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mindy Willard - 2013 National School Counselor of the Year

Club Ophelia at Sunset Ridge: Middle School Girls Build Healthy Relationships

“Thank you for teaching me how to accept myself for who I am”…7th grade (Stephanie)

“You taught me how to love myself and how I shouldn’t listen to what other people think of me”…8th grade (Selena)

“I’ve learned that beauty is accepting yourself for the qualities that make you, you” …
8th grade (Maritza)

“I thought I needed to change myself to be like everyone else but your encouragement helped me learn that I AM beautiful, in and out”…7th grade (Ashley)

These comments are from a few of the 7th and 8th girls at Sunset Ridge Elementary School who have participated in Club Ophelia. These are adolescent girls who exhibit high degrees of self-esteem and confidence and who have developed healthy relationships. Yet, nationally and in Phoenix, middle school girls are often the targets of, or, are actively involved in, bullying and relational aggression; gossip and competition; and the behaviors associated with the movie title, and real-life situations, of “Mean Girls.” How have these young, teen-age girls at Sunset Ridge managed to elevate their self-esteem during these socially difficult years? For the middle school girls at Sunset Ridge, and a growing number of girls in the Pendergast Elementary School District, the transformation has resulted from their participation in Club Ophelia and the inspiration of School Counselor Mindy Willard, their sponsor, mentor and caring adult. Mindy was recently named 2013 National School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor’s Association.

Mindy Willard, the Sunset Ridge Counselor, was aware of a growing problem with the middle school girls with aggressive behaviors, discipline issues and office referrals. Along with Counselor Jill Zitt, Turner was awarded a grant to begin a Club Ophelia program starting in 2007. The first year, the program attracted a dozen girls to an after-school club that was designed for the girls, along with Willard, to engage in dialogue and activities that focused on building self-worth, healthy relationships and pictures of their own, better future. The after-school program has grown to include lunch-time meetings with high school mentors and special events throughout the school year.

With Willard as both mentor and facilitator, the members of Club Ophelia have developed a variety of activities that offer them opportunities to talk, work and play together to build social skills and relationships. A scrapbook and journal are integral to the program, allowing the participants to create pictures of their future lives, careers and achievements. All of the activities include group discussion focused on developing self-esteem. High school students and oftentimes former Club Ophelia members themselves are invited back to Sunset Ridge to work with these 7th and 8th graders.

Among the favorite Club Ophelia activities are dinners with mothers, role models and teaching staff; creating masks; Club Ophelia slumber party; role playing and book studies; taking dance and yoga classes together; attending plays and other social events and a Fashion Show in 2012 benefiting a domestic violence shelter in the area.

One measure of the success of Club Ophelia at Sunset Ridge is how the program has grown and expanded throughout the Pendergast District. The 7th and 8th grade club now reaches more than 30 girls during the week. The Club now incorporates 6th grade students with requests from 4th and 5th graders to also be included. Other District Schools (Villa de Paz, Amberlea and Desert Horizon) have modeled programs after Sunset Ridge. Other District schools, as well as schools in Phoenix and Tucson, are looking to the Sunset Ridge Club Ophelia for help in starting similar programs.

Office referrals at Sunset Ridge have dropped by 30%. Attendance has improved and the girls look forward to school and especially their Club Ophelia time. In pre-and-post screening, girls report higher self esteem and decrease in “girl drama”. Typically, a Club Ophelia girl will tell you that now they feel “proud of myself, I don’t put myself down any more or let others bring me down.” Perhaps the best testimonial is the one Mindy Willard recently received from Andrea, a recent Sunset Ridge graduate now in high school:

“I can honestly say that I would have never survived my first year of high school
without your help! You inspired me in so many ways that encouraged me
to be myself and love who I am. Keep Club Ophelia going because I would love
to come see the next group of girls who will learn and experience the things
I got do with you when I was just like them. Thank you so much.”