Located in South Central (SC) Iraq, Kerbala city is the capital of the Kerbala governorate and is considered a sacred city among Shia Muslims. As a result, local council (LC) officials focus on the construction and maintenance of religious shrines, often over the needs of their communities. Unfortunately, few incentives exist for LC members to even investigate community ser-vice needs, since they were appointed years ago and have not been subjected to elections. Many members lack public service skills and professionalism, and are largely unrecognized and unsupported by their provincial council (PC) to play an effective role in developing their communities.
To bridge the gap, USAID’s CAP III partner, CHF International , conducted a four-level series of trainings to build the capacity of Kerbala and other LCs across the SC and Anbar provinces. In each session, CHF clarified LC duties and responsibilities under the law, providing materials and practical techniques to plan and prepare budgets, and to prioritize and manage projects. Upon reaching Advanced level trainings, LC members gained skills needed as public service officials, including negotiating with other government bodies, preparing sound project proposals for the provincial council, and managing public relations with communities. Moreover, during the last two years, CHF invited Community Action Group (CAG) members to attend trainings at their option to enhance the community-focused exercises and add realism to the training dialogue.
As a result, LC member attendance increased remarkably, ex-ceeding 96% for the last Advanced-1 training held in Kerbala in April 2012. Since last year, LC interest doubled along with attendance, also reflected in the members’ continuous communication with CHF LC Trainers, and frequent inquiries for the next CHF training date. Furthermore, female attendees from both LCs and CAGs noticeably increased over time, supported by their enhanced participation in training. While Kerbala LC members continue to find ways to apply their newly-acquired skills in daily work, they are now equipped with techniques and tools to balance community needs with their religious priorities.