When you think of teenagers, the first thought that pops into your mind doesn’t tend to be an image of highly polished individuals in business attire debating foreign policies.
But that’s exactly what one group of Belmont Secondary students spend their time doing.
The school’s model united nations club has expanded this year, with students attending a number of conference across the Island
“As soon as they don their business wear it is very impressive,” said Dayna Christ-Rowling, one of the club’s teacher sponsors. “They gain a lot of knowledge in a very short time,” in what she referred to as authentic learning outside of the classroom.
She noted those that have negative opinions of teenagers should visit one of these conferences to see students in action.
But it’s not just adults that can get the wrong impression.
Cassandra Campbell added it’s easy for other students to get sucked into common misconceptions and think that it can be academically overwhelming. “It’s more fun than academic,” she added.
Morgana Adby noted “you don’t really know what you’re getting into [but] you get the model UN bug … It’s like larping [live action role-playing] for people that like foreign policy.”
The club, which is comprised entirely of Grade 11 students this year, is open to everyone.
Isha Cheema participated in her first event this year and quickly adjusted to the learning curve. “I was so nervous, but when you go there you ease into it, it’s not as stressful as you’d expect.”
While she initially sat back and watched others, she quickly found her own voice and, representing Japan, she partnered with Sweden to draft a backup paper just in case the one their committee was working on got vetoed. Which, in hindsight was a good move as it did. But even with all of the preparation and dedication, mishaps do still happen.
Keemia Alizadeh-Borji was at a conference and had prepared to represent Ethiopia. But when she arrived she was told there had been a mistake. “They sent me the wrong country,” she explained, but thankfully she was supposed to be representing Saudi Arabia, a country she had represented in the past.
“It’s an amazing experience to be a controversial country … It was an opportunity to do something you don’t agree with.”
While at a conference she noted delegates have to take stances on topics and policies that align with the views of the country they’re representing and not based on their personally beliefs. “You have to deal with everything that is thrown at you,” she added.
But most importantly, Adby noted students learn conflict management and compromise. “It sets young people up to be able to manage conflict and not take it personally.”
Christine Camaso added “it’s taught me more about diplomacy than any class … and not stepping over others.”
It’s also allowed them to create friendships with other students around the globe. “It’s such a unique hobby … it brings together a diverse group of students that are all interested in the same things,” Camaso explained.
The club has been to three model UN conferences this school year. Last month, the group travelled to the mainland to participate in the Vancouver Model United Nations conference, which is one of – if not the largest – high school student-organized conferences in North America. The Belmont club noted roughly 1,400 participants took part in the three-day event with delegates from several countries.
Three members of the club, including Adby and Camaso, also headed to New York last week to participate in a model UN conference. They’ll return home just in time to join their teammates in preparing for another event taking place in April. Hosted by the Shawnigan Lake School, ShawMUM Victoria takes over the Victoria Conference Centre from April 6 to 7 and will feature keynote speaker Dennis Edney, who is known for his pro bono defense of Omar Khadr who was detained in Guantanamo Bay at the age of 16.
When asked why she joined, Campbell noted “I think it’s important for our generation to broaden their views.”
The club has been in operation for six years and was started by Evelyn Amado. Christ-Rowling took over when she retired and also enlisted the help of fellow teachers William Stee and Cathy Davis. Christ-Rowling noted the Belmont club is one of the few competing locally that is from a public school, mostly because of the costs associated with the events. The club is looking for donations and anyone interested can reach out to Christ-Rowling by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.