By Dottie Indyke
“I think that the fears, and maybe even the hate, that we have for each other are only because we don’t know each other.” – Adi, 16, Israeli
“To achieve peace we should see what problems the other side suffers from.” – Reem, 15, Arab Israeli
“I think this program will help me so much because peace is the focus of my life.” – Mona, 17, Palestinian
Exactly what might a teenager do to solve a 70-year-old conflict? This is a question we are frequently asked. More broadly, what can any person do to affect the course of history?
At Creativity for Peace, a beneficiary organization of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, we believe that change begins with the individual. While it is true that governments make policies and laws, transformation at the grassroots is equally crucial, if not more so. As one of our young women – the daughter of a Jew and a Muslim – says, “What use is a peace treaty if the people still hate one another?”
Creativity for Peace teaches that peace begins with self-awareness, determination, and an open mind. We offer skills that augment these inner qualities, such as listening with compassion, speaking authentically, and finding and expressing one’s voice. In theory, such techniques seem simple; in practice they are anything but, especially when facing a person one perceives as her mortal enemy.
This summer, 16 young women – half Israeli and half Palestinian – will meet in New Mexico to begin the work of peace. For three weeks, they will tell stories of growing up in war and conflict and of losing people they love. Under the guidance of art therapists, they will use visual media to explore and heal emotions that are difficult to articulate. They will live in a house together, sharing bedrooms and chores. All these encounters will demonstrate what it means to partner with the “other” to achieve common goals.
When camp concludes, these teens will be profoundly changed. No matter what their expectations at the start, they will be shocked to learn the experiences of the other side. Israelis will hear how their army treats Palestinians. Palestinians will discover the effect of terrorist acts on Israelis. What they have been taught by their families, schools, and religious leaders turns out to be very different from the truth.
In 15 years, the hearts and minds of 271 young women have been so opened. With ongoing training in theory and practice, public speaking, project management, group facilitation and other skills, our young peacemakers have made an impact in their professional lives as healers, teachers, artists and lawyers; in advocacy at the United Nations, World Economic Forum, and Global Youth Summit; and as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers.
They are role models for achieving peace despite enormous obstacles. They show us that it is possible to put aside pain and anger in order to understand the perspective of another. They learn about one another and study and initiate joint actions. They willingly enter painful territory and challenge themselves to address inequity and suffering. This is how grassroots peacemaking works.
What is needed more than ever in our world is what we at Creativity for Peace teach:
- Communicating across divides
- Speaking from one’s experience, rather than blaming, shaming, or judging
- Listening with an open heart and mind
- Putting oneself in the shoes of another
- Identifying common goals and collaborating to achieve those goals
In the words of Naama Shlomy, a 19-year-old from the Israeli city of Sderot, which is regularly attacked from nearby Gaza, “Creativity for Peace heals hearts and gives young women like me the skills to do difficult personal and group work. Facing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a huge and scary thing. But doing it has made me stronger, wiser, more aware and more hopeful.”
You can meet 2017 campers and hear talks from Young Leaders at Creativity for Peace’s public event, Salaam~Shalom: A Celebration of Peace, on Thursday evening, July 27 in Santa Fe. For information, www.creativityforpeace.com or email@example.com.
Dottie Indyke is the executive director of Santa Fe-based Creativity for Peace.