Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

UAE pupils learn the art of compromise at Model UN

Participants become national diplomats to resolve tense negotiations

Richard Hay, a history teacher at Cranleigh, with Esha Saigal, left and Valentina Topalovska. Cranleigh School pupils and participants in the Model UN. Reem Mohammed / The National
Richard Hay, a history teacher at Cranleigh, with Esha Saigal, left and Valentina Topalovska. Cranleigh School pupils and participants in the Model UN. Reem Mohammed / The National

It is a problem which diplomats around the world grapple with day in, day out.

How to address often decades-old regional disputes with tact and sensitivity, in the hope of achieving lasting consensus.

For more than five years, the UAE has been doing its part to encourage young minds to consider the intricacies of such complex geopolitical issues.

Each year, hundreds of school pupils from around the world take part in the Model United Nations – an Abu Dhabi-based forum designed to equip teenagers with conflict resolution skills.

“One of the things I love about the whole thing is how it empowers young people,” said Richard Hay, who coaches pupils enrolled in the New York University Abu Dhabi-run programme.

“I think young people should have a say in politics. When you watch something like the Security Council in real-life, it almost makes the United Nations redundant.

“They cannot agree what to do and just look at historical problems. When it comes through the eyes of younger people, who don’t have that baggage, they can say ‘we see we’ve got a problem with this country’, but they find ways through that.”

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho addresses the 73rd United Nations General Assembly on September 29, 2018, at the United Nations in New York. / AFP / Don EMMERT
Pupils said they are inspired by the critical debates held at the General Assembly

More than 200 pupils each assigned to represent the views of countries from around the world took part in the Model United Nations event held at the New York University Abu Dhabi campus last month.

Acting as diplomats, participants are given the task of finding new ways to dissect and resolve long-standing, real-life conflicts.

The teenagers enact the UN’s General Assembly and Security Council meetings.

And in a sign of how seriously the event is taken, they are told to address each other as representatives of their temporary nation rather than by name.

This year, discussions focused on climate change, tourism and cyber terrorism.

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Esha Saigal, 16, said she had been chosen to act as the director of the Security Council and was focused on improving relations between the UK and Russia.

“Even though it’s a simulation, you feel like you have power to make real-world decisions and are acting as a country,” the year 12 pupil said.

“That’s the sort of responsibility we don’t get on a day to day basis.

“You’re essentially teaching children how to negotiate, how to problem solve - trying to encourage more of a global community, more communication.

“We have a unique opportunity to look at countries - look at their allies, and who they can possibly co-draft a resolution with - but also step back from that and see how you can make everyone come to an agreement.”

Richard Hay with Esha Saigal, left, and Valentina Topalovska. Reem Mohammed / The National
Richard Hay with Esha Saigal, left, and Valentina Topalovska. Reem Mohammed / The National

Emiratis, including a Year 9 boy who won respect from organisers for passionately representing France while proudly wearing UAE national dress, also attended this year’s event.

In total, more than 30 pupils from Cranleigh school, one of around eight UAE schools to participate, attended the conference.

Valentina Topalovska, 12, also a pupil at Cranleigh, said she had won an award for representing Guinea-Bissau.

She researched the negative impacts of climate change and tourism on the West African country and was able to engage with allies despite the country having relatively little clout on the international stage.

“I had to step out of what I’d already learnt and go through a new learning process in order to not only agree with my country but others,” she said.

“After the MUN event you take so many virtues which are really useful in daily life; going into other people’s points of view and understanding how they feel.

“That’s something you really need in daily life in order to make things more equal and fair.”

Updated: December 12, 2018 04:06 PM

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