Making Peace Is Messy Work

teen girls smiling while creating chalk art

Making Peace Is Messy Work

Tomorrow’s Women empowers young women to change the world.

By Alana Grimstad

Moms know messes. 

Now that is a universal truth. 

Cheerios-stuck-in-inaccessible-car-seat-crevasses kind of messes. Only-kid-in-the-class-not-invited-to-the-birthday-party kind of messes. And of course, scraped-knees-from-falling-off-the-monkey-bars kind of messes. 

 On a recent Sunday morning, I watched my two young daughters make absolute messes of themselves. The chalk-of-every-color-of-the-rainbow-covering-every-inch-of-skin kind of mess. As I looked around at where we were, and most importantly, who we were with, I thought about the messes of innocence, and also, painfully, the messes of our nightmares. 

My children, clutching their sticks of chalk and hunched on the ground over the walkways of the Santa Fe Railyard, worked side by side with young women visiting from the Middle East. They’re part of Tomorrow’s Women, an extraordinary nonprofit that brings young women ages 15–17 from Israel and Palestine together in Santa Fe, where they meet—often for the very first time—and discover the humanity in each other. Israelis and Palestinians are neighbors, and yet their society is structured in such a way that they don’t typically interact harmoniously in daily life. In fact, they mostly don’t interact at all. That leads to the creation of prejudice, fear, stereotypes, and, to be blunt, hatred of one another. And as the years and decades roll on, so does the violence. 

And yet on the other side of the world, in Santa Fe, groups of about 16 young women have gathered every summer for the past 20 years to participate in Tomorrow’s Women’s peacebuilding camp immersions. The young women learn communication and leadership skills like compassionate listening and authentic speaking. For three weeks they live together, eat together, do chores together, and explore together. They partner for a high ropes course, lean on each other while learning to walk on stilts, roam the local shops of the Plaza, and try for the very first time both green chile and compassion. The campers’ cell phones are taken away (that’s no small feat for a group of teenagers, let me tell you), and everyone speaks only English as a neutralizing element. The girls are totally immersed in their surroundings and each other. 

The focus on team building and social activities helps the young women reach across the divide—both a figurative and literal one. There are actual walls separating their communities back home. “I didn’t think much about the lives of Palestinians before. I’ve never had Palestinian friends before,” shares 2023 Jewish Israeli camper Tamar. “Their stories are shocking. I feel like I now understand what it would be like in their shoes,” adds fellow Jewish Israeli camper Shai. 

Instead of walls, Tomorrow’s Women builds bridges. 

Deep bonds of friendship are forged as the young women experience personal transformations. They then head home with changed perspectives and ignited ambitions for peace. “I’ve never even met a Jewish person before. I’ve never spoken to one. I’ve only seen them from afar. They’re completely different than I would have imagined,” says Palestinian camper Mera, who is from the West Bank.

This annual tradition called Chalk 4 Peace brings together local community members to meet and create alongside the young peacemakers. To the sounds of raucous applause, Santa Fe mayor Alan Webber declared the day, August 6, Young Women Peacemaker’s Day.  

As I sat at the Santa Fe Railyard on that sunny Sunday afternoon, small chalky handprints embellishing my clothing, I couldn’t help thinking of the messes these young women grew up experiencing: rockets flying overhead, personal stories of trauma and loss, crises of land and identity, discrimination, occupation, terrorism. Thinking of their messes, I immediately thought of, well of course, their mamas. 

What courage these mothers (and fathers) must have to send their daughters across the world, many of them leaving home for the very first time, to sit down alongside the perceived enemy, with the intention of learning, hearing, and healing.

Tomorrow’s Women began 20 years ago as the result of three visionary women: humanitarian Rachel Kaufman, artist and filmmaker Debra Sugerman, and Israeli peace activist Anael Harpaz. These women believed that the decades of violence and conflict between Palestinians and Israelis would never end if left to politicians and governments, and felt that empowered young women had the greatest chance of creating peace in their countries. Here’s Debra reflecting on the organization’s milestone anniversary: “If we can help one person from the opposite side treat the other as a human being in that one moment. Or we can have one teenager say to the old man who doesn’t think it’s possible, ‘Don’t give up hope. It’s possible.’ Then we’ve done our jobs.” 

The cornerstones of the program started and now continue with dialogue and art. The young women spend more than 40 hours in robust dialogue sessions with trained facilitators where they learn to really listen deeply and authentically speak their own truths and stories. Art is led by trained art therapists as a creative and powerful way to break down barriers and process the heavy work of this journey. 

From the very beginning in 2003, Tomorrow’s Women (formerly known as Creativity for Peace) was held up by the Santa Fe community. To this day, it takes about 100 volunteers and a generous community of supporters, partners, and donors to run the program. 

When looking back at the past 20 years, the original campers, those pioneering teenagers who were forever transformed by their connections, have now become young professionals who are making a real impact on the world. Young women who have gone through the program go on to hold positions of power and influence. Many have become activists, human rights lawyers, teachers, mothers, and dialogue facilitators. One woman even opened a mixed daycare for Arab and Jewish children, so those kids will never know a world without a friend from “the other side.”

Tomorrow’s Women believes that when equipped with the tools, skills, and confidence to lead, the power of just one extraordinary woman can transform conflict with strength and compassion.

When talking about the program’s alumnae, I’d be remiss not to mention one beautiful and brave young woman, Bessan Abuelaish, who was tragically killed alongside her sisters and cousin when Israeli tank shells fired at their home in Gaza in 2009. I didn’t know Bessan, yet I ache for her mother’s horrific loss, a broken-heart-splintered-in-a-million-broken-pieces mess. The kind that can never be cleaned up. 

There’s a spectrum of messes.             

In my home, we’re full of messes. We love to do art projects and play in the mud. We all make a lot of mistakes. And, we talk often and openly about Tomorrow’s Women. Here’s how my children describe the organization in their own words. “You take Israelis and Palestinians and bring them to a camp and create peace because they are fighting and they have a really good time and they don’t fight anymore.” That’s Sloane. She’s 8. And here’s my 5-year-old, Raya: “They learn how to be kind and don’t hurt other people. They just can’t give up, Mom.”

They won’t, dear girl, they won’t.

Alana Grimstad is Tomorrow’s Women’s communications director and 2023 camp director. A former local television news reporter, Alana is honored to use her storytelling skills to bring voice to the courageous young women brave enough to travel across the world to Santa Fe in their quest for peace, equality, and justice for all people. Alana and her husband, Joel, live with their two (very messy) daughters in Santa Fe.

ad featuring a brown dog

Sports

Arts & Culture

Performing Arts

Nature

Activities

Birthday Parties

Pools & Splash Pads

Local Attractions

Shopping

Learning & Literacy

Schools

Childcare

Special Needs

Health

Family Services

Mom Groups

ad featuring white and brown dog

More Like This

JF Mazur Studio

JF Mazur Studio

JF Mazur Studio JF Mazur Studio offers children’s art workshops and private painting classes.

Dragonfly Art Studio

Dragonfly Art Studio

Dragonfly Art Studio Dragonfly Art Studio is a place where kids and adults develop their creative talent in a fun and stimulating environment.