The 11 pupils were part of a group of nearly 2,500 pupils from 22 countries who convened in New York for the International Model UN Conference.
Dubai students take over UN General Assembly
DUBAI // Eleven pupils from Dubai took on temporary ambassador roles at a recent model United Nations debate in New York.
The students took the seats of actual UN delegates at the General Assembly hall for opening and closing ceremonies of the International Model UN Conference from May 16 to 18.
They were part of a group of nearly 2,500 pupils from 22 countries at a three-day meet organised by the United Nations Association of the USA, a programme of the UN Foundation.
The teenagers said they arrived determined to bridge cultural divides, shoot down preconceived notions and shatter stereotypes about the Middle East and its people.
“I was the only one at the conference in a hijab so they wanted to know why I wore it,” said Amal Rais Ali, a 17-year-old Emirati.
“I told them how we are not defined by the hijab but by our actions and who we are as people.”
The pupils from the Garhoud and Barsha branches of Al Mawakeb School and the International School of Arts & Sciences (ISAS) were chosen following outstanding performances in local UN conferences.
In New York, they were all assigned to represent Turkey in a debate of issues such as cyber terrorism, generic drugs and sustainable development. The programme is part of a Global Classrooms educational programme that engages middle and high school students to explore world issues.
On the sidelines, UAE students fielded questions about the world’s tallest building and whether they were taught subjects in English.
“I felt like a moving encyclopaedia; they knew Dubai as a name but wanted to know more so I explained about our culture,” said Dubai Abdulla Abulhoul, 16, an Emirati who published a debut fantasy novel Galagolia last year.
“Seeing us as young women there proved that Dubai is all about empowering women,” said Ms Abulhoul, a Mawakeb school pupil.
“I talked about the right image of Islam that is peaceful. I asked them not to look at stereotypes. I also learnt to respect everyone’s opinion so regardless of political and religious views it was good to sit and listen to each other.”
Lively debates also helped Noor Al Kooheji, a 17-year-old Emirati, understand the importance of a world view.
“It opened up my eyes,” she said. “It’s something I will carry throughout my career. I realised we shouldn’t look at issues from one perspective but from a global perspective.”
The conference helped others nurse lifelong ambitions of becoming diplomats. Jude Kamel, 17, was reminded of her aim to help friends and family in Syria.
“I have a dream of working in the UN,” said Ms Kamel.
“I want to make a change and I really want to help people live a healthy and safe life.”
Bright-eyed, confident, focused and earnest, the students also showed their attachment to the country they grew up in.
“I was asked what it was like living here and if it was a closed environment,” said 17-year-old Sami Nasr, of Lebanese-Korean descent but born in Dubai.
“It was a big shock to them that I spoke Arabic ... I tried to open their eyes to the big expat population here. I want them to visit Dubai and to love Dubai as I do.”
The conference also sharpened the competitive skills of students like Mansour Al Riachi, 16, from Lebanon, Emirati Maajed Al Bastaki, 18, and Omar Abdelkawi, 17, an Egyptian-American.
“I learnt that no preparation is enough and you have to assume everyone is smarter than you,” Mr Abdelkawi said.
“Each time you speak has to be your best and you have to be better than the rest.”
The UAE’s multicultural fibre helped the pupils, said Alissar Nasr Soubra, the chief academic officer of the Academia Management Solutions International that manages both schools.
“The students embrace other nationalities so when they arrived in New York and had to mingle it was very easy for them.”