the rise of Model UN

MUNA-Colour

You’d think that sitting through eight hours of speeches two days in a row would deflate any high schooler from participating again, not to mention their teacher counsellors. This was my first year at Winnipeg Model UN, and it was the best experience of students passing notes (personal and diplomatic) in my teaching career. When else do you have personal pages running notes for you, of both the political ultimatum, and tic-tac-toe varieties. As Winnipeg opens the new museum for Human Rights in September, I expect more schools will be sending delegations next year.

Russia presented their case about the Syrian rebels’ use of chemical weapons, North Korea threatened the US delegates, the Cuban delegation (a team from the US) denounced the US  as “the devil to the north,” (they were from Selkirk), and a WASPy Egyptian delegation revelled in their rhetoric against the Muslim Brotherhood and Israel. And then there was the Israeli delegate, a young Aboriginal man from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, whose job it was to call into question the notion of “indigenous peoples.”

It was perhaps this moment, a philosophical and political debate on the definition of “indigenous”, when Roberts Rules of Order worked their magic. Here was a bright and confident Aboriginal young man representing a very different kind of minority point of view. He had to think on his feet quickly, in order not to be cut off from debate by a move to previous question which would force a vote on the resolution.

My main job as counsellor was to look good dressed in business attire, and make the occasional suggestion to my delegates from Brazil, who were slated to give speeches in support of a resolution to create a fund for the plight indigenous peoples. It wasn’t long before my guys were wrangled in the political mess of wanting to do justice, and have their country’s best business interests in mind. We ended up voting for China on the South Seas conflict, since they have extensive Amazonian logging interests. Meanwhile, China voted against our indigenous fund resolution.

MUNA is not only a great introduction to political economy, it is also a lesson in the power of political connections, backroom deals, the magnetism of charismatic speakers, and above all, the need to be prepared. This is why MUNA rewards the two most prepared delegations every year – those who are knowledgeable and willing to speak on a host of issues, regardless of whether they are Mali and the resolution is about Syria.

This year our school sent delegations to Toronto MUNA as well, and one student won best position paper in a committee, regarding reduction of small arms trade. Even if you don’t enter a delegation or two, I highly suggest having your class volunteer as pages for the event, as it is always the experience that brings students back the next year.

Model UN is gaining ground in Canadian social studies’ programs, and for good reason. There are even Middle School versions of the conference. Here’s what our ex-foreign minister and current premier have to say about it:

The two years I was involved with the Model UN opened for me the challenges faced by the world of international relations. It also gave me the opportunity to meet, through the Rotary club, the dedicated volunteers, advisors and mentors to learn from. Looking back, as a former foreign minister, I believe participating in the Model UN was one of the formative experiences of my youth.”

Dr.Lloyd Axworthy, President of the University of Winnipeg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs

 

“Taking part in the prestigious Winnipeg Rotary Model United Nations Assembly as a high school student allowed me to experience for the first time how politics is conducted, both in the public halls and behind the scenes. It gave me a taste of what it means to speak to the hopes, dreams, and needs of all citizens. For the participants of the 55th Winnipeg MUNA, it is the perfect time to hone your debating and negotiating skills, and to put your convictions into action.”

The Honourable  Greg Selinger, Premier of Manitoba

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