Youth local councils for civic engagement and social change in Palestine
The project focused on the creation of Youth Local Councils (YLC) in six villages in the West Bank – two in the north, two in the central area and two further south. All the young people in these villages were mobilized to register to vote in the YLC elections and underwent training in citizenship, democracy and electoral processes. Families, municipal councils, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community members were involved in the campaign meetings or in overseeing the elections.
The YLCs then received further training in the skills they would need in order to ‘govern’ effectively: negotiation, leadership, conducting meetings, fundraising, strategic planning and community action. They consulted with their youth constituents, the municipal council and community members, to devise a plan of action to contribute to their communities’ needs, and subsequently undertook a wide range of cultural and social activities, ranging from computer classes for other young people to the painting and renovation of school buildings.
Lessons from Project
The young people themselves had creative ideas about how to secure both funds and in-kind support for their activities; however repeatedly having to source such support can over time become a disincentive to participation. Despite the strong commitment to volunteerism created and promoted by the project, it would have been a good idea to increase the attention given to fundraising during the training provided to the elected Youth Local Council members and to bring in an experienced fundraiser to deliver such training so that the young participants would have access to the resources necessary to implement their many creative ideas.
Data collection and analysis would have been more useful to the project and to future planning, if it was disaggregated by sex. This allows gender to be appropriately programmed and for a more gender-sensitive understanding of the potential and risks in any activity. Although this project in Palestine did pay attention to gender in many ways, it was a pity that the pre- and post-tests did not and so did not allow to measure whether there was a difference between the understanding/learning of male and female participants (and thus to see where changes to training or activities might be made).
The Youth Local Councils (YLC) in Palestine became very active on social networks; all opened a Facebook page and a common page was created to exchange best practices. The bringing-together of the YLCs in networking meetings and training and promoting a mentoring system to support new participants and retain the experience and expertise of young participants reaching the age limit of 22 were mentioned by a number of beneficiaries.
Although not a prominent component of the project, gender was appropriately taken into account in a number of ways. There was awareness from the outset that girls/women in the communities must participate and be represented, despite the challenges this engendered. The training materials and events in Palestine all took gender considerations into account.
The young people in Palestine were very aware that they cannot continue to serve as youth councillors past the age limit set by the project (16 – 22 years) but have clear ideas of how they can both support younger people taking on the youth councillor role and also continue to participate as trainers and mentors.
The young participants not only learned about democratic processes and the roles and responsibilities deriving from them, they were able to put these into practice. From drawing up roles and responsibilities of the Youth Local Council to participating in elections, campaigning and then representing their constituents, the young people knew that they were creating something new and important in their lives and in the lives of their communities in Palestine.
To allow them to implement their action plans each Youth Local Council (YLC) had a ‘pot’ of USD 5,000 from which they were provided with funds from the grantee against receipts, in line with the financial management training the YLC members had received after their election in Palestine.
The project’s ability to mobilize stakeholders, such as municipal councils, community members, families, schools, the media and relevant ministries, to interact with the Youth Local Councils was crucial to the success of the project in Palestine.
At the time of the evaluation, seven months after project completion, the Youth Local Councils (YLC) in Palestine were still functioning and most were scheduling new elections for the coming months. This was most likely due to the grantee’s approach, which bridged the gap between acquisition of knowledge (in this case of democracy, governance and leadership) and practical action in service to the community (here through the medium of the YLCs).