Palestinian BYU grad to make a difference at the U.N.

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Mira Ansari (center) with her father Nazeer (left), and mother Wafaa (right) in a courtyard near her home in Palestine. (Mira Ansari)

A missile siren sounds. It’s the first time her little brother has heard one. He jumps up from his spot on the couch next to her, drops the novel she had been reading with him to help him learn English and looks around for a place to hide. Unable to find one, he looks at his family for help, only to see them slowly stand up and make their way outside, where they stand together to identify where the missile will strike. After an explosion is heard from a number of miles away, they walk back into their home in Jerusalem’s old city and return to their evening. She picks up his book for him, calms his nerves and returns him to his English lesson.

Mira Ansari grew up in Jerusalem, a place where the giggles and fairy tales of childhood are often drowned out by the wailings of missile sirens and tragic stories of hardship and violence.

Ansari came to the United States in 2007 to gain knowledge and have experiences she could use to make her world a better place. Now she is a  25-year-old BYU graduate in international relations and business management.

“Coming from Palestine, I wanted to go somewhere I knew I could learn enough to come back and benefit my country,” Ansari said. “I didn’t really know how to help, but I knew if I could learn how to do something better, I could always bring back something useful here.”

Through her own hard work and commitment to her cause, she has transformed herself from a reserved bookworm into a formidable force for good in her native Palestine.

“Since I came home last year, I’ve worked with a U.S. aid contractor to better the Palestinian economy by helping Palestinian businesses gain access to international markets,” Ansari said. “We’re helping by building a stronger local economy and lessening our reliance on foreign aid, which is important to our progress as a people.”

Ansari works primarily with Palestinian agricultural groups, helping them implement new technologies and find buyers for their products throughout the region and around the globe.

“When I started this job, I didn’t know anything about agriculture, but in school I learned how to apply my talents to anything and have been able to do that with our programs,” Ansari said.

One project she feels will immediately benefit the local economy was her work helping Palestinian broccoli farmers.

“It used to be that all the broccoli in Palestinian markets was bought from Israel,” Ansari said. “We’re helping Palestinian companies produce enough to fulfill their own food demands.”

Ansari introduced them to an effective soil substitute, greatly reducing the amount of water their plants need to grow, and helped them acquire and install computerized systems that regulate irrigation and ensure each plant receives the right amount of nutrients.

“Water is a precious commodity here that everybody fights over,” Ansari said. “It’s expensive, and regulating its use will save everyone money and help broccoli farmers and others establish a stronger market presence.”

She takes pride in her efforts to help the Palestinian economy and is grateful for the education she gained at BYU that made it possible.

Ansari came to BYU in 2007 and found her place in the international relations program.

“I felt I could do good work at home by doing international relations and public administration to learn how to properly manage and deal with bureaucracy in my country,” Ansari said.

Her experience in the program taught her how to interact with a diverse group of people and how useful her own talents could be.

“There are so many people in international relations who have had experiences in so many different places, both the faculty and the students, so there was always room for sharing unique perspectives and ideas,” Ansari said. “My education at BYU gave me the flexibility to find work in almost any field in Palestine and be successful in it.”

During her time in Provo, Ansari embraced her community and blossomed socially. She served as an officer in a number of on-campus clubs, worked as an adviser for other international students and even magnified her calling as a member of the activities committee in her LDS student ward. Ansari was and still is a devout Muslim.

David Settle, the associate director of the International Student Services Department at BYU, worked with Ansari during her undergraduate studies and marveled at her growth during her time at BYU.

“She may have been a bit reserved at first, but she developed a confidence in communicating with people and a very accurate knowledge base that allowed her to eventually advise and counsel her fellow students,” Settle said.

Cristi Maetani, an adviser in the same department, noticed Ansari seemed to be working toward something greater than the task at hand.

“She had a deep devotion to her family and her homeland,” Maetani said. “She was mild and fair but unapologetic about the situation over there and was driven to help.”

After graduating in 2011, Ansari earned a master’s degree from American University in public administration and returned to Palestine in 2013.

When she returned, her family noticed a difference.

“When she was here, it was always her and her books,” said Ansari’s sister, Mirna. “BYU changed her a lot. It made her more open to talking to different people, and she even helps around the house now, doing dishes, laundry and tutoring our little brother.”

Though she always loved her family, Mira Ansari felt her time at BYU taught her how to express her love better.

“The culture at BYU is very family oriented, even for single people. You have a BYU family, and you learn a thing or two about family by living in that environment,” she said. “If I would have gone somewhere else in the United States, I would not have experienced that. Fortunately I got into BYU, which was my first choice, and it ended up being the right choice.”

For Mira Ansari, an education at BYU was the first step toward bettering the world for the two things she loves most: her family and her homeland.

“When I was a child, I was told to treat others the way they treat you, but that’s not right. You should treat people better than they treat you,” she said. “We need to improve the world on a personal basis, and you can do that at home, at work, everywhere.”

Mira Ansari will have a new opportunity to improve the world beginning this August when she begins her new job as a program support officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“It’s an opportunity to do what I wanted to do initially,” she said. “It doesn’t focus on private firms like the company I’m with now; it directly helps farmers on the ground and the individual people who actually need the help.”

Mira Ansari will better her world and will see BYU well represented in Palestine by vigilantly personifying the BYU motto: “Enter to Learn. Go Forth to Serve.”

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