The Future President of Palestine

By Rana Mousa, M&E and Reporting Manager, Local Government and Infrastructure Program

When asked about her dreams, Basha’er Othman is quick to answer: “The future President of Palestine is what I dream to be when I grow up.” At 15, Basha’er is the “shadow” mayor of 'Illar, a small town of just over 6,000 people in the West Bank. During a ceremony, the mayor of Illar, Mr. Shadid, handed Basha’er official documents and briefed her on her new role and responsibilities as a mayor. (It will be her second stint as a shadow mayor – in January 2011 she held the post for one week.) In her new position, she will be supervised by the mayor and the deputy mayor, and is expected to engage other youth members to shadow the Municipality’s Council members.

BashaerPHOTO: Basha’er meeting with ‘Illar Municipality Council members

Basha’er became involved in local government through the Youth Local Council (YLC) – an initiative implemented by Global Communities as part of  the USAID-funded Local Democratic Reform program (LDR). Global Communities helped form 10 Youth Local Councils across the West Bank to engage youth and teach them about local governance and democracy. The activities of the YLC will be expanded under the current Local Government and Infrastructure program also funded by USAID. Global Communities hopes to implement the YLC initiative in other countries using what has been already developed in Palestine as a model.

Basha’er says that her mission is to empower her fellow youth to become part of the local governance’s participatory democratic decision making process on the local and national levels. During this speech, Mr. Shadid emphasized the importance of working in close cooperation with the youth members who should, by the end of the two months, be able to understand the municipality’s work and processes, the functions of its various departments, the relationship between the citizens and municipality as well as the latter’s relationship with the Ministry of Local Government.

Despite her ambitious dreams and drive, Basha’er is a very normal 15 year-old, who is the youngest child of four children; and like many girls her age, loves poetry and novels. She was brought up in a marginalized community, but her well-being was of uttermost importance to her parents and throughout the years. They had one thing in mind: guide their young daughter in the right direction. From what I can see today, Basha’er is not only headed in the right direction, she is defining the right direction. “My parents always stressed the importance of building a good foundation that would provide me with the best possible options in everything I do,” Basha’er explains. Since late January 2011, this poised young lady has been heading the Youth Local Council (YLC) in ‘Illar.

Since then, Basha’er has been actively involved in empowering youth by being engaged in her community. “My rich experience with the YLC enhanced my capacities and skills through the various trainings received in communication, creative thinking, planning, etc. These trainings enabled us to advocate for our rights and objectives through various campaigns and initiatives implemented in close cooperation with the local community in a participatory manner,” Basha’er adds.

Illar planting rosesPHOTO: Basha’er with YLC members planning trees as part of YLC initiative “’Illar, the town of ten thousand roses.”

While the YLC seeks to prove the potential of youth at the local level, Basha’er has gone a lot further, making her mark regionally and nationally. Within a year of her term presiding over the YLC, Basha’er expanded their reach by coordinating activities with regional and national stakeholders. She presented ‘Illar’s YLC achievements to the Minister of Local Government and Minister of National Economy at the Youth Summit, held in 2011. She also led efforts of a number of YLCs in joint activities and campaigns and coordinated with Al-Najah University in Nablus and the American University in Jenin. On several occasions, she worked closely with the Tulkarm Governorate.

At the moment, Basha’er is completely focused on what she wants to learn and what the people around her should learn as well. She acts with courage even though ‘fears’ are always present, she says “yes” every time something challenging or new comes along.  By taking baby steps in life, she hopes that they will ultimately be sewn together allowing her to achieve her final goal in life and fulfill her dream.