Pakistani woman to spend 30 days in Madison County learning local government model

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – Wednesday’s Madison County Commission went on with no surprises — a typical series of agreement authorizations, and bid recommendations — until the meeting’s close when Commissioner Bob Harrison introduced Themina Iqbal. She’s a Pakistani woman who will spend the next 30 days in Madison County under Commissioner Harrison’s tutelage learning about the American local government model. Iqbal is here through an internship exchange program through the United States Department of State.

“It’s good for us to promote America and for folks in foreign countries to have a good image of what democracy is about,” Harrison says. “So for a 30 day period she’ll be here for us to be able to show her and explain to her what democratic government is about and how the people govern themselves.”

Themina Iqbal introduces herself to county leaders after sitting in on Wednesday's Madison County Commission meeting. (PHOTO: David Wood)

Themina Iqbal introduces herself to county leaders after sitting in on Wednesday’s Madison County Commission meeting. (PHOTO: David Wood)

Iqbal will be busy. She will reside in Madison County during her stay but has a full itinerary of appointments all across the state. Iqbal plans to take what she learns here to help others back home understand the best way to integrate democracy and successfully unite Pakistan’s 4 provinces with the capital in Islamabad. Democracy is very new in Pakistan. The country recently had only their first peaceful transition from one elected democratic government to another with the 2013 elections.

“I’m very hopeful that soon we will learn and we will manage, you know, a good country,” Iqbal says.

The program also extends an invitation for local government leaders to visit Pakistan themselves. Iqbal says much could also be learned from that exchange of ideas.

“Pakistan is not at all what you see on the news — trust me,” Iqbal insists. “You only see the sensational stuff which is going on in Pakistan but you have to come to see, what’s the culture? We have a very diverse, rich culture: people and food, I must say. You will love everything about Pakistan,” she says. “And this is an opportunity for me to tell people what we are really about. Pakistan is not at all a land where everybody’s fighting or just blowing up — we have this issue, and we have suffered more than anyone else in this world. We are still paying the price: our children; we are afraid to send our children to school — what can be more scary than that? So we are not hopeless, we are fighting and we will fight until the end.”

As far as Madison County’s participation in the exchange program to visit Pakistan, Commissioner Harrison says that will take a great deal of consideration, at least as far as he’s concerned.

“There’s a little bit of reluctance and trepidation to this point –we’ve told Themina she’s got a lot of convincing to do before she leaves.”

Iqbal was accepted to the U.S. Department of State’s Professional Fellows Program after an application process and was placed in Madison County based on her job description and level of expertise. The Professional Fellows Program brings emerging leaders in the fields of legislative process and governance; civic engagement; NGO management; economic empowerment and entrepreneurship; and journalism from around the world to the United States for intensive fellowships designed to broaden their professional expertise.

Participants spend approximately one month in the United States, during which they receive hands-on exposure to national legislative offices, state legislatures, local government offices, businesses, and non-profit organizations through carefully designed full-time fellowships. Fellowships provide participants the opportunity to examine the relationship between civil society and government in the United States and how respective agencies and organizations work to strengthen citizen participation, transparency, and accountability.

The program also establishes structured interaction among American and foreign participants designed to develop enduring professional ties and lasting partnerships. At the conclusion of their fellowships, participants travel to Washington, DC, for a three-day Professional Fellows Congress, where they have the opportunity to engage with more than 200 Professional Fellows from around the world. The program take place twice per year, in the spring (May/June) and in the fall (October/November).

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