Model UN programme promotes peaceful society in Lebanon
Beirut - Ayad Masri was a first-time delegate in the Model United Nations (MUN) programme at 14. Today, six years later, he is an enthusiastic advocate of education as a means to build peaceful societies.
“I am who I am because I enrolled in this programme. It allowed me to see how education is the most important element that has the ability to change our attitude and mindset to give rise to a more peaceful world,” Masri said.
The programme was introduced in Lebanon 12 years ago by the Lebanese American University (LAU). It brings UN culture to high school and middle school students through simulation of member states in the different UN agencies and committees.
Each year, students from across Lebanon participate in five training sessions at LAU campuses during which they learn about the UN mission and role, diplomacy, negotiation, conflict resolution and public speaking. A closing 2-day conference has the students representing different countries on specific UN bodies or agencies, including the Security Council, the General Assembly, the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation.
“The purpose of the conference is to debate and go into details of the topics that are being simulated and come up with a resolution at the end of the conference,” Masri said. “The draft is very similar to a real UN resolution in terms of format and content.”
It is Masri’s sixth year in the programme. Now an LAU student and MUN trainer, he has won the programme’s diplomacy award, which earned him a scholarship at LAU.
“The programme has really opened up the horizon for me and made me see the world in a completely different way… I became aware that there are issues bigger than our little issues that we face every day and that there are bigger causes to fight for,” he said.
The programme enlists the extracurricular work of about 200 LAU students, who act as the UN secretariat and trainers.
More than 20,000 students from 200 private and state Lebanese schools have been trained under the MUN programme, Director Elie Samia said.
“Our university’s mission statement is forming leaders in a diverse world. How can you form leaders in a diverse world better than by stepping into the shoes of the whole world?” Samia said.
“Role playing and simulation is also an exercise of objectivity. For example, if I represent Iran, and I personally disapprove of Iran, I want to defend Iran’s point of view because I want to win an award at the end of the day…
“It is a game of intellectual and psychological preparation. Students need to know everything about the countries they are simulating, including the type of government, human development, trading partners, etc. They become advocates of good causes.”
Topics scrutinised under the programme range from actual conflicts to globalisation, environment, human development, human rights and poverty. Several students later attend international MUN conferences in New York and elsewhere.
In view of the success of the MUN programme, LAU introduced the Model Arab League programme six years ago and the Model European Union last year, Samia said.
The Arab-Israeli conflict, Palestinian issues, Islamophobia, human rights and gender equality are among the topics debated in the Model Arab League. Although the concept is the same as MUN, the Model Arab League programme is not exactly a simulation but an aspirational model to create a framework of how the Arab League should be.
“Here we are highlighting real problems and challenges and dealing with them in an aspirational way,” Samia said.
Saeed is in the seventh grade. He just turned 13 but he has already attended three MUN conferences, including two international ones, in which he represented different countries — India, Jordan and South Africa — in the General Assembly, the human rights committee and the political committee.
“When you do MUN you get opportunities to research deeply two to three topics per conference,” Saeed said. “I learnt different points of view on very controversial issues, how to represent a point of view that might not be mine but someone else’s and how to present it in a way to influence other people to follow that perspective.”
Besides giving him knowledge on global issues MUN improved Saeed’s leadership and speaking skills. “When you start travelling for MUN, you present to an audience of over 150 people, and you need to improvise on the spot using formal language,” he said.
“It really boosts one’s self-confidence, so when you go back to school it is much easier to present your thoughts in a clear way without looking nervous.”
MUN experience will come to an end for Masri, who will be graduating from LAU this year but the lessons and skills he acquired will endure.
“It has given me the techniques, the skills and a way of thinking that will stay with me forever,” he said.