MUN: Students learn diplomacy and critical thinking

Monday, January 28, 2019

A Model United Nations Conference is exactly what it says on the tin: a replica of the United Nations General Assembly – for students.  In the words of MUN Advisor, Jason Webster, “the students share a passion for global issues and working toward solutions to the challenges related to healthcare, refugees, education, women’s rights, humanitarian aid and other important topics. Students spend time researching, discussing and debating those issues, (especially in relation to their allocated MUN country)”. Last weekend seven international schools from Muscat governorate sent a total of 130 Grade 9-12 students to the 12th annual MUN conference at the American International School campus in Ghala to debate two General Assembly topics over two days. Under a banner-maxim of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, the students represented each of the 190 UN countries. 

Jason Webster shared, “Delegates are an engaged student body, learning to hone essential academic and social skills – research, critical thinking, public speaking and collaborating effectively with peers. It is a collection of globally-minded young people who are eager to address the issues facing current and future generations.”

The Guest Speaker, UNICEF representative in Oman Ms Lana al Wreikat, congratulated the organisers for, “hosting the distinguished, talented group of students who will be the future leaders of tomorrow. The UN was built on accepting, respecting and understanding other people despite the differences between cultures.” She wished Happy New Year as UNICEF celebrates the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on its 30th anniversary, and reconfirmed its commitment to raising awareness and understanding with member states. Even though Oman is a high-income country, UNICEF has been in the country since the 1980s. It is working on some gaps, focusing on the situation of women and children in Oman, especially nutrition, infant feeding habits, fighting anaemia and vitamin D deficiency, which prevails. In accordance with CRC, Oman is tackling early detection of disability. Ms Wreikat mostly served with humanitarian programmes in Central Asia, the Far East and African regions. Sia Jyoti, representing Cuba from ABA, commented that, “close to her heart is disaster and emergency relief. She mentioned having worked during the war in Somalia, the Coup in Madagascar and in South Africa during cyclone and flooding seasons”. She concluded her address by stressing the importance of reaching out to help countries relieve the impact of natural disasters or conflict.

Opening speeches from Greek delegate Melanie al Set and DR Congo delegate Margot Baudet from the French School Muscat, gave well prepared deliveries on equal rights to education for all. The first issue on Friday was, ‘Efforts to improve the quality of and access to education globally.’ Students spent two hours in groups drawing up their resolutions where one would be chosen for afternoon debate. Canada’s articulate delegate, Janka Vander Merwe from ABA, with co-submitter, BSM’s veteran Henry Duffy representing France, designed a 10-clause resolution. 

Most striking was the voting process. An amendment proposal was made, and then three hours was spent debating and adding amendments, with up to four ‘points of information’ each, until a vote was finally approved. The Chair of the weekend, keeping every speaker strictly to time and insisting they speak only in the third person, was the inimitable Raffaella Saa from TAISM, with Leo Castiblanco’s IT skills keeping information boards on task. For example, Oman’s delegate proposed improving access to education for Special Needs Students which was not on the original submission. Four questions were allowed at 45 seconds each and then delegates could speak for or against the amendment and they in turn could be questioned! The Swiss delegate, BSM’s Rupin PraveenKumar played devil’s advocate by suggesting spending extra funds on Special Needs students was economically unproductive for a country and therefore should not be carried. It received a flurry of responses! Japan’s representative, Imran Abid from A’Soud Global School interjected often and well with perceptive points.

The second day addressed ‘the effects of internal and international migration on cities’, though the resolution chosen by ‘Oman’s delegate’, Isaac Bos, was a three page document comprising sixteen clauses, ‘considering the potential threat posed by illegal migration’. From Azzan Bin Qais International School, the Slovenia delegate, Aasya Junaid Mohiddin, spoke frequently and lucidly on rights and discrepancy with the UNHCR advice and definitions. Pakistan’s Jeffrey Oguni from BSM was frequently well-argued, concise and well-researched – against Qatar’s Karim Samaha’s equally sound argument from his opposing position. ABQ’s Hamnah Aleem, delegate for Tunisia pulled holes in amendments proposed by The Sultans School’s US delegate, Qasim al Mjeni. His peers, Ibrahim Al Ghafri representing Jamaica and Moldova’s Rayyan al Kindi, newcomers from TSS, expressed what an eye-opener the weekend had been, an opportunity to make meaningful contact with like-minded teenagers from other secondary schools, especially over lunch.

Meanwhile in a separate chamber, fifteen members of the mixed Security Council had a heated debate over a crisis in the South China Sea! Similar debates were held there with equal attention to protocol and formal dress. The Conference concluded with evaluation and awards for delegate and school participation and achievement. In each case a little more focus on the background of delegates’ member states could be prepared for next year, but this observer awaits the next MUN Conference in 2020 with baited breath.

Byline: Georgina Benison, Oman Observer, January 27, 2019