Today, more than 30 million people around the world have been displaced due to war and violence, making nearly 10 million children refugees. As previously blogged about, countries facing an inordinate amount of displaced persons today include Somalia, Colombia, Palestine, Haiti, and Iraq.
On Monday, April 11th, the Education Department of UNA-GB guided a group of participating middle school students from the Greater Boston area through the “Torn from Home: My Life as a Refugee” exhibit at the Boston Children’s Museum. The special event was hosted in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Related to the Status of Refugees. The traveling exhibition provided an interactive second-hand look at the plight of refugees, particularly the children supported by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The 6th and 7th grade students from Josiah Quincy Upper School came highly prepared for the day’s simulation – when Rachel Farkas, the Asia Program Associate at Boston Children’s Museum, sat down to give a brief introduction of the exhibition, they enthusiastically differentiated between refugees, evacuees, and environmentally displaced people!
To simulate the camp experience, the students were divided into 4 smaller groups: registration, medical, education and home. Through a series of inspiring hands on activities and guided questions from UNA-GB staff, students were able to address a myriad of complicated issues afflicting refugees. Upon ‘registration’, the students were issued individual identification bracelets and compared the food rations of a camp with their diets. In the medical center, they examined malnutrition, disease prevention, water and sanitation. While crammed into a tent, students discussed “What is home?” and “What does home mean to you?”. After exploring the exhibition, they gathered on the benches and mats of the minimalist school area to discuss the opportunities education presents to children in refugee camps and to share what each group had learned from the exhibit.
That afternoon, the students represented different countries associated with the UNHCR. They used their newfound knowledge from the exhibit to fuel a debate of the international issue of Environmentally Displaced People. The success of the day was evident due to the energetic debate amongst the students and the variety of resolutions drafted. To grasp the impact of Model UN simulation, read or watch personal feedback from the students themselves.
On November 20th we hosted our annual Middle School Model United Nations conference at Northeastern University. This event was exciting for all of us because we had been preparing for months and finally our hard work paid off. We had 250 bright-eyed and energetic middle school students from across the greater Boston area show up early Saturday morning, in order to represent over 50 different nations and debating topics such as the Illicit Drug Trade, Fishing, the Crisis in Haiti, Migrant Workers and Environmentally Displaced People. Students represented their countries in 5 different committees: the Economic and Social Council, Food and Agriculture Organization, Security Council, Human Rights Council and General Assembly.
The opening ceremony featured a speech from the president of Northeastern’s Engineers without Borders chapter, Matt Walsh. His speech was utterly funny and enjoyable, particularly for the students. He spoke about his travels in South Africa and East Asia and he also gave light to Adam Sandler’s charitable side with a story about how Sandler bought four $200,000 cars for some of his costars in a recent film. The latter, Walsh stated, fazed him because he said with $200,000 Engineers without Borders could have dug 20 wells and provided clean water for over 8,000 people.
After the opening ceremony the students were promptly directed towards their respective committees, where they began an arduous debate session until lunch time. At 11:30, the Security Council got a very suitable guest speaker, Mr. Elie Lafortune who is currently a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Lafortune spoke to the delegates of the Security Council about the current crisis in Haiti and gave them a brief history lesson about Haiti’s unstable past. Soon after, the committees adjourned and the students headed off to a lunch of salad and pizza.
As soon as lunch ended, the committees went back in for a second session that consisted mostly of unmoderated caucuses in order to get a head start on their resolutions. The committees felt the pressure to get voting on resolutions done, but rose gallantly to the challenge. The ECOSOC approved a resolution which called for enhanced surveillance on illicit drug traders as well as for more rehabilitation centers, while in the Security Council delegations came to agreement regarding the need for more financial aid to be distributed in order to provide water, medication, security and many other basic needs that the Haitian people need.
During the closing ceremonies, awards were given out for best delegations and best position papers in each committee. Honorable mentions were given out for public speaking and negotiation. Though really, we wished we could have given awards to ALL of the students for their astute arguments and keen participation. It was so rewarding to see how creative the students got in pursuing their assigned country’s best interests and in working towards a better world.
I know we were thoroughly impressed – 11 and 12 year olds expertly debating drugs, migrants and natural disaster relief is quite stunning! This experience was thrilling for many of us interns because some of us had never staffed a Model UN Conference for this young of students before. There is nothing quite like experiential based education, especially when it comes to complex global affairs.
If these students are coming up with viable solutions to the world’s most pressing issues now, imagine what is possible once they enter the global stage as politicians, community activists and diplomats!
PS. Don’t just take my word for it. Check out the photos below!