HIV/AIDS. Removal and banning of landmines. Healthcare for children in developing nations. Clean water in sub-Saharan Africa. These are huge issues. They’re complicated. Politicians, philanthropists, and the scholarly sort ponder ways to fix them, or if they can even be fixed. That’s why I’m happy to report that the problems above have already been dealt with. Or at least were under serious consideration and debated upon. I know what you’re thinking. “If these things were taken care of, why didn’t I hear about it in the news?” Well, truth be told they were dealt with by the United Nations. A Model United Nations anyway, and the results only lasted for the morning. But it still counts for something. It may not mean much for child soldiers in Liberia, or climate refugees in Bangladesh, but for the 800 middle schoolers in St. Louis who participated in the Model United Nations, it meant solving global problems. It was progress.
Compromise, not competition. That’s one of the main ideas behind the local Model United Nations sessions run by Civitas (the local St. Louis non-profit for which I work) Every year around 800 sixth, seventh and eighth graders research countries, brush up on their diplomacy, and pretend to be delegates to the U.N. There are no awards, no prizes for best delegate. Instead they focus on working together with other delegations to find solutions in a civil fashion.
Being a pretend diplomat isn’t very glamorous. The sessions take place in a local government center that can hold around 160 people maximum, not some swanky hotel or conference center. The dress code is pretty lax. Some students dress up in suits, some find clothing native to the country they’re representing, some wear school uniforms, and some just wear…well whatever. And other than a free snack, there are no job benefits. But still students show up and do what they can to pass U.N.-style resolutions.
Which is, hands-down, the best part of the program. These students have to look beyond their backyard, their school district, their city, even their country, and find someone else who needs their help. Then they have to explain to other delegates why this issue is important and why it deserves the U.N.’s attention. Each year we get around 30 resolutions that address global problems. Many of them are creative and filled with the sort of optimistic goodwill that adults could benefit from. For example we looked at:
- Women’s rights
- Corrupt officials
- Human trafficking
- Homelessness in Haiti
- Child labor
To be debated by the General Assembly of the U.N., each resolution had to not only state a problem, but have a reasonable solution. Most of the solutions involved funding and utilizing NGOs. Or having developed nations step up and help take care of poorer nations. Once again, the answers were earnest and optimistic. Students have a very clear definition of fairness and are ok making countries that would normally shirk responsibility shoulder their fair share. Which is refreshing to see. I would love to live in the world where Saudi Arabia voted to increase rights for women. Even if it’s just for one morning. I sincerely hope that the students participating in Civitas’s Model United Nations program can hold on to those principles much longer than when the session dismisses. They are the future voters and policy makers of this country. Although they’re not aware of it, child soldiers in Liberia and climate refugees in Bangladesh share this hope too. It is progress.