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February 2004 - Issue No. #52 (p.10-11)

EFL Students at a Model United Nations (MUN)

by Esther Lucas


In January 2003, I watched 250 teenagers, boys in suits and girls neatly dressed, many carrying brief cases, sitting in the gymnasium of the American International School in Israel, acting the part of United Nations delegates and debating matters of moment as part of a high school Model United Nations (MUN). I was intrigued by the whole procedure because I had worked for the United Nations in London after World War II and was present at the very first General Assembly and Security Council. I was familiar with the excitement of those early days and watched with interest as students debated and prepared resolutions and hurried to get them ready for the mock General Assembly.

I had recently attended Model UN events in London and Geneva. This event (TIME-MUN: The Israeli Middle East Model United Nations) was different. Of its 8 mock UN commissions, 7 demanded that students do roleplay (Security Council, Regional Cooperation, Disarmament, Environment, ECO-SOC, Human Rights, Territorial Disputes). For the Conflict Resolution Commission, however, students had met the previous weekend for training by the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace.

At the MUN closing ceremony, a 12th grade student, one of the organizers, reported on his experience. For the first time at a Model UN, he said, a committee operated where formal dress was not required, participants didn't have to prepare policy statements, there were no formal debating rules and no resolutions passed. He described how difficult it was at first to contain the storm of emotions, of rage, fear, disappointment and bewilderment.

He learnt that to resolve conflicts, one has to bring the conflict out into the open, expose it and confront it. He realized that looking at needs rather than positions was the focal point of conflict resolution. Instead of asking what we want, we should ask ourselves why we want it and how else we can answer those needs.

The students did not reach full agreement, but they learnt skills, made friendships and - through pain and emotion and re-evaluation of basic "truths" - their experience on this commission was real "education for peace."

The students came from 16 schools, public and private. There were Palestinians from Israel and the Palestine National Authority. There were Jewish students and all the different nationalities of the international schools. The students represented 31 national delegations: Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Egypt, France, Germany, Guinea, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, China, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Syria, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States.

TIME-MUN lasted 4 days, but students had spent much time preparing for it. Each delegate was supplied with a Delegate's Handbook, printed at a local school. It contained: instructions on behavior and etiquette, a schedule of events, summaries of issues to be discussed, rules of procedure, explanations of how to write a resolution and lists of phrases to assist in producing documents correctly. There were also profiles of the student executives.

Students were reminded in the Handbook that they were no longer high school students, but delegates and diplomats of their assigned country. It was their job to represent their country's best interests, even if these policies conflicted with their personal views. The students lived up to all expectations. The chairpersons carried out their responsibilities efficiently, including obliging delegates to address their remarks to the chair, and delegates maintained their roles consistently.

Students got deeply involved in the issues. One girl, when asked by her teacher how her group was getting on, said excitedly: "We're doing fine, we've nearly finished. We've only got Jerusalem and the refugees left!"

The resolutions produced by the Commissions were often innovative. The Environment Commission urged that the developed world support a pro-peace project to construct desalination plants so that water could be shared between Israel and Palestine. The Territorial Disputes Commission demanded the removal of all troops from Kashmir and suggested that India and Pakistan hold a peace summit in South Africa. The Disarmament Commission called upon all UN Member States to support efforts to prevent terrorist-sponsoring nations from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The ECO-SOC Commission urged states to enhance super-vision of the Internet and pornography.

During the four days, I interviewed several students. An Arab 12th grader from an international school was attending her 4th MUN. When asked why she came, she said her aim was to attempt to solve problems, to be aware, to think and to learn what had been done. She claimed she'd learnt so much. She'd talked about things that had never been discussed. She found the human encounters worthwhile, and had "tons of stories to tell."

Several Arab high school girls said they came to improve their English. One 12th grade girl who belongs to Seeds of Peace, an organization that brings Arab and Jewish young people together, had attended a meeting in the US two years ago. She said it makes her life richer and means a lot to her to meet different people. Another girl said the MUN was perfect. She met new people and learned about the UN. It was a great experience.

An 11th grade student from a Jerusalem international school was full of pr aise for the MUN. He'd come at the suggesti on of his English teacher, and found everything interesting. It was a new experience, and he'd learnt about the UN. He had already formed definite views and didn't agree with the Security Council veto. Why should one country have more power than others? He appreciated his new friendship with the Israelis he'd met.

A 12th grader in an Arab school, also a member of Seeds of Peace, had met Jewish students from Jerusalem and had been to co-existence meetings in the US three times. He enjoys discussing issues of peace, tolerance and education, and would like to be a staff member of Seeds of Peace.

Many students from Hebrew and Arabic speaking schools came to the MUN on the recommendation of their English teachers. They came to improve their English. They were eager to learn about the UN and the problems the UN has to deal with. They came to meet other students, and because international schools took part, they met many different nationalities. They worked hard and had fun, including an evening of dancing.

A quote on the wall of the American school read: "Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of others; but from doing something worthwhile". The organizers and students did something very worthwhile.

The Model UN

The Model UN is a simulation of the United Nations system. Students assume the roles of ambassadors to the United Nations and debate current global issues. Participants seek ways, through diplomacy and negotiation, in which the world community can deal with global concerns such as the environment, development, refugees, AIDS, conflict resolution, disarmament and human rights. Young people from diverse backgrounds participate in these educational exercises to experience first- hand decision-making and diplomatic work at the United Nations.

Reprinted in edited form from "New Era in Education" Volume 84/1 April 2003:

Esther Lucas is the newsletter editor for IATEFL's Global Issues SIG, an advisor to The Israel-Middle East Model United Nations, , Honorary President of Israel's UNESCO Associated Schools Project and Development Education Officer of Israel's UNICEF Committee.

Contact her at: 13 David Marcus St. Herzliya Pituah, 46682 Israel


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