x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Teen life: Emimun teaches you what it's like to be listened to

We may seem more interested in our nails, but ask us nicely about the economic crisis and there are more words in a teenage lexicon than 'whatever'.

We went on holiday to Jordan a few years ago, puttering along on a magnificent road trip that took in such awe-inspiring sights as Jerash and the Dead Sea. It was full of the friendliest people I have met - our voluble tour guide, for example, who decided to confer his daughter's name "Jamila" upon me for the rest of the holiday. Up in the Nabataean ruins of Petra was the lute player who delighted us with his music and, of course, his adorable dog.

So last week, it was with a feeling of eager anticipation that I took on the opportunity to represent Jordan in the Emirates International Model United Nations (Emimun) conference in Dubai. Being referred to for a whole week as "the honourable delegate of Jordan", or shortened simply to "Jordan", can make you feel pretty self-satisfied and big-headed.

Model United Nations is an impressive concept. The idea is to get youngsters to attend conferences that simulate the real United Nations. Each participant acts as the delegate of a particular country, voicing that country's stance on a topic, debating global issues and working together to draft resolutions that outline plans of action on how to go about solving world calamities. Split them into committees, such as the Human Rights Council or the Economic and Social Issues Committee, think up a topic to be debated in the meeting, and you're good to go.

Emimun reflected a growing model UN culture in Dubai, especially among teenagers and young adults, and had a truly international flavour, with delegates visiting from countries as diverse as Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and, of course, the UAE.

It has been a long-aired complaint of teenagers: "No one listens to me." We use it with unremitting frequency: when we're refused a new pair of Kurt Geigers that could potentially change our lives, when we're trying to discuss earth-shakingly important matters like how best to interpret the "hello" of the floppy-haired guy in our history class, and so forth.

There aren't many forums where the opinions of teenagers actually matter, but model UN is one of them. We may seem to be more interested in our nails than in climate change, but when asked nicely how we would go about solving the economic crisis, there are more words in the teenage lexicon than the superbly indifferent "whatever".

We weren't quite sure what to expect when our school's Emimun team, consisting of our teacher Ms Mallett and the most honourable delegates of nations ranging from South Korea to Italy, arrived at Dubai Knowledge Village. Not that you could have told that this was a bunch of nervous schoolchildren. The girls in crisp black dresses or skirt suits, the boys clad in pinstriped trousers, we looked the part. The boys had put their foot down when it came to sporting their bow ties or cravats on the way to the conference because of potential cringe value, and arrived with their neck-gear belligerently stuffed into their pockets. Once they were outside the doors of the meeting hall, however, they spent several minutes trying to knot them, faces contorted in painful concentration.

The conference was declared open by the secretary general, Alina Bogatkova, with a forceful banging of the gavel. You'd be amazed at how much teenagers can have to say about the effect of social media on the population or the legalisation of privatisation of war, the topics discussed in our committee. It can get pretty heated, I discovered; someone tried to get the chairperson to take away another delegate's right to speak by fishing out an obscure UN rule of procedure which had apparently been violated. Sparks flew as we distinguished diplomats proposed plans about forming a regulatory body to control cyber crimes, and then had our imaginary regulatory body accused of corruption by the others. This was a funny sort of claim because the organisation didn't exist yet, but there's Mun for you.

That isn't to say, though, that we didn't enjoy ourselves: lasting friendships were made and, in the end, we managed to work as a team to draw up detailed resolutions that would make the world a better place to live in - if the UN actually adopted them.

Teenagers can be surprisingly sensible at times - the last day of the conference saw delegates of countries at war in real life exchanging BlackBerry pins and promises to meet up sometime. While there were prizes for the best delegates, funny awards for the best dressed, the conference's Teddy Bear and the Sleeping Beauty put the cherry on top of what was a fantastic experience - although I wouldn't like to be in the polished loafers of whoever was given the Future Dictator award.

 

ŸThe writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai

 

artslife@thenational.ae

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