x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Model UN: where teenagers run the world - kind of

Teen life Lavanya Malhotra's dreams of running the world almost came true for a day when her school held a Model United Nations conference in New York.

Students discuss issues such as world hunger during the Model United Nations.
Students discuss issues such as world hunger during the Model United Nations.

My dreams of a day when teenagers run the world almost turned into reality when the school announced that we were going to be delegates at a Model United Nations (MUN) conference in New York. "It is a great opportunity for all of you," a teacher said, in the usual how-lucky-we-are-to-live-in-a-free-country-and-have-a-good-education speech. "You will be representing different countries and be experts on different issues, such as world hunger or children in armed conflict. Hundreds of students from around the world will come together to discuss these issues, draw out resolutions and make decisions that will affect the world."

"Like free Virgin Megastore gift vouchers for everyone below 18?" someone proposed - and looked disappointed when informed that the passed resolutions would not actually make any difference to the way things are run. It's all very well saying that we are tomorrow's leaders, but they don't trust us all that much. The teacher's argument was that it wouldn't do any good to have the music industry going bust, too.

Fourteen students signed up. The UN headquarters sent word that some from our school, including me, would represent Ireland, while the rest would be delegates from Burkina Faso. "I'm only doing this for the shopping in New York," Emily said, staring blankly at a piece of paper on which she had scribbled: "Burkina Faso: facts." "So. Where is Burkina Faso? I've never heard of it." I was about to shake my head and tell her what an ignoramus she was, until I remembered that I hadn't heard of it either. By the end of the week, though, I had churned out 12 pages of research on sustainable tourism (my area of study) in Ireland, and had even helped Emily place Burkina Faso on the map.

The next part of our preparation, of course, involved shopping - just a taster of what we would experience in the Big Apple. We bought formal suits and black high heels eagerly, and then spent hours practising walking in a straight line in them, spouting sustainable tourism facts to save time. We had an excuse to watch New York Minute (the Olsen twins movie). It helps to be acquainted with the city.

Families gathered at the airport, mothers tearful and the future leaders hissing instructions such as "You already hugged me in the car. Don't embarrass me, OK?" Most of us spent the 14-hour flight watching movies. Jay was sick three times. After we had checked into the hotel, teachers threatened to choose our roommates for us. They didn't, in the end: I put together a MUN-style proposition, complete with semicolons after the clauses, on why it would be best for them to let us choose our own roomies or there would be unrest.

We UN delegates are so mature. Unpacking in the spacious room, pushing Emily's mess on her side of the room and begging her to let me borrow her shampoo instead of using the hotel's took up most of the evening. The first couple of days were spent sampling various restaurants, exploring the Hershey's store and taking full advantage of any sales. At the time, Nerds were not available in Dubai, so everyone stocked up on the sweets for when we faced the famine at home.

The actual conference was, well, interesting. A tour of the UN headquarters had us wobbling crazily in our heels and finally walking around in stockinged feet. Once my partner, Mikey, and I had entered the sustainable tourism hall and sat down, I managed to make him wriggle out of his stripy green jacket when the suited chairman eyed him warily. When it was my turn to speak, I read out my perambulatory clauses: viewing with appreciation that sustainable tourism is highly encouraged in the Republic of Ireland; recognising the committee for sustainable tourism in Ireland; the world should play an active role in encouraging tourism operators to respect local customs and traditions and pay attention to the environmental conditions in the particular area?

When I was finished, a Ghanaian delegate said, "I would like to ask a question." "No personal pronouns," the chairman coughed discreetly. "I'm sorry, the Ghanaian delegation would?" "No personal pronouns," was the prompt but firm reply. However irritating, sometimes I love the MUN code of conduct. We paired up with Australia and China to make a resolution, which was passed. We returned to the hotel shoeless but smiling. A week of shopping and watching Broadway musicals awaited us.

I'm not sure how much I learnt. What comes to mind when I think of Ireland now is leprechauns, not the Beatha quality mark, but one important lesson is forever imprinted on my mind: I'm unlikely to forget that flats are the safest footwear invented. Stick to them. Lavanya Malhotra is a 14-year-old student in Dubai.