Mining, child soldiers, the human rights of migrant workers, and crisis in Colombia?
These are issues that challenge the world’s foremost development and security experts, and probably seem foreign and unfamiliar to most U.S. teenagers. However, Model UN youth are taking on these seemingly intractable problems in mock forums across the country this month.
The 2012 Global Classrooms DC (GCDC) Spring Model UN Conference took place on Tuesday, May 1, at the U.S. Department of State, hosted by the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA), the U.S. Department of State, and the Pan American Health Organization. During the event, 600 middle and high school students, including youth from underserved communities in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and a special delegation all the way from Tema, Ghana, participated in a daylong program. The agenda consisted of speeches by diplomacy experts followed by the main event: member-state presentations, negotiations on draft resolutions, and unmoderated caucuses among the students.
I can only imagine how exciting it would be to don a junior-sized suit and swap policy recommendations at the State Department, the hub of our nation’s diplomatic activities. As I recall, my own Model UN experience in 7th grade took place at a local community college–and I thought that was pretty snazzy. And yet, as thrilling as the conference surely is for all the participants, it represents only a small part of the broader Model UN program. To prepare for the conference, middle and high school students and teachers participate in year-round activities to help them understand the UN system, increase their knowledge of other cultures and traditions, improve their ability to think analytically, and creatively and collectively tackle global problems.
I took a look at the background guides for two of the 2012 topics, “Metals and Mining ” and “The Situation in Colombia,” and was impressed by the level of detail presented in the documents. Metals and Mining outlines the two primary types of mining–surface and underground–and describes some of the controversies surrounding the mining industry’s intersections with the environment, health, economy, groups such as children and indigenous communities, and armed conflict. All three of the issues highlighted elsewhere at the conference–mining, migrant workers, and child soldiers–are discussed in the context of Colombia in the background guide for that topic, as well as some additional challenges associated with drug trafficking. And that’s just the beginning: After reading the background guides, students are tasked with completing their own research to further expand their knowledge of the issues.
Model UN is no doubt a fantastic learning experience that helps students develop core content competencies, along with skills in analyzing, applying, communicating, and debating. Importantly, students are treated as adults–albeit young ones–accountable to their teams and, ultimately, the nations they represent. “Empowering” is a word that students and teachers often use to describe the program, and I hope that all the students who participated in the May 1 event shared that sentiment. They likely also felt inspired, thanks to a dynamic presentation from Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues, and Director of the State Department’s Global Youth Issues Office, Ronan Farrow (quite a mouthful of a title!).
Ronan Farrow, Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues, pictured with UNA-NCA Executive Director Paula Boland. Photo courtesy Latraniecesa Johnson-Wilson.
In his talk, Farrow spoke about 21st-century challenges and how social media can be used to solve those challenges globally. He suggested that the first 21st century generation is more wired than any other before it, and that it is helping to give a more radical approach to youth advocacy–a critical contribution, since 21st-century challenges require 21st-century solutions. He called for the establishment of youth councils at embassies around the world to bring the voices of young people–a rapidly growing segment of the global population–into international policy-making circles. Farrow is committed to starting this work at home in the U.S. by actively seeking policy advice from students, such as those participating in the Model UN program.
Like Ronan Farrow and the many teachers, administrators, and volunteers who dedicate their time to the Global Classrooms D.C. Model UN program, National Geographic Education believes that preparing young people to think critically about their world and make geographically informed decisions are among our most important responsibilities. We enthusiastically support the work of Global Classrooms D.C., and have been proud to partner with them on a number of projects over the years. Congratulations to all the participants at the Spring 2012 Conference; thanks for sharing your remarkable story with us!
If you would like to learn more the Global Classrooms D.C. program and how you can get involved, please visit their website at unanca.org.
Gena Magill, GCDC Communications and Evaluation Assistant (left), shares a hug with student Samantha Brew, GCDC Youth Team Member and Model UN Secretary. Photo courtesy Latraniecesa Johnson-Wilson.
Thanks to Latraniecesa Johnson-Wilson, Communications Program Assistant for UNA-NCA, and Jill Ruchala, Director of Global Education for UNA-NCA, for their help with this article.
—Sarah-Jane for National Geographic Education