A few weeks ago in these pages you were introduced to Menifa – Leverage for Life, a nonprofit organization based in Israel that works with youth at risk who have dropped out of high school. There are 25,000 teens who live on the street and Menifa’s goal is to help them complete high school and reintegrate into society. Menifa has a high success rate, with 95% of teens in its programs returning to normative educational and social institutions.
Menifa provides a holistic program that addresses the academic, social and emotional needs of teens at risk. An important component is the outdoor therapy workshop. Outdoor therapy involves the use of challenges found in nature – rock climbing, white water rafting and hiking. The encounter with these challenges helps instill in the participant a sense of responsibility and belief in his or her ability to succeed in difficult conditions.
Each workshop is unique and tailored to the needs of a specific group of teens. Activities include climbing Masada, hiking parts of the Israel Trail, rappelling and ropes courses, desert survival and more. The kids sleep outdoors and are introduced to experiences which they have never before faced.
On the one hand the purpose of the workshop is therapeutic – to provide metaphoric obstacles that symbolize daily hardships. The workshop also emphasizes different topics relating to the Land and Zionism. This provides the teens with an opportunity to discover new things about their country and about themselves as part of the Jewish nation. The workshop also introduces environmental and ecological issues, making the kids more aware of their surroundings.
The outdoor therapy workshop has helped lead to fundamental changes in the lives of the teens who participate in them. They develop life skills including responsibility, leadership and the ability to get along in a group setting and they gain self-confidence from their accomplishments.
Fifteen year old Sara* is one of the teenagers who participated in the outdoor therapy workshop. Her favorite activity was the drum circle because, “Everybody danced and sang and we really let our energies out,” she explains. The social aspect of the outdoor therapy workshop is very important. “We learned to see the teachers from a different angle, different from what we see in school,” another teenager named Shelly* explained. “They are having fun with us.” Participants leave the retreat feeling closer to each other and to their teachers and staff. The social aspect of the workshop also teaches the teenagers about the importance of group responsibility. They take part in communal cooking and obstacle courses that show them the importance of each individual in the group. When one drops out, the entire group suffers.
Sara describes the biggest challenge she faced on the retreat. “It was very cold. We were freezing but we overcame it and saw that it is possible to live in the conditions of the desert if you are with your friends or with people that you like to be with. Then you can be in any condition”.
Before Sara came to Menifa, she was kicked out of her high school and had tried multiple schools. “I did not get along in any school. I looked for a while and I came to Menifa and they right away accepted me.”
When asked what her goal is, Sara says with a smile, “To succeed.”
*Names changed to conceal identity
The cost of operating a workshop for a group of up to 20 teenagers is $1,800. For further information please visit our website www.menifa.org.il or call (201) 203-2937.