NEW YORK – The fifth annual Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN) Conference concluded on Saturday, April 16, in the General Assembly Hall at UN Headquarters. Almost a thousandyoung students hailing from different countries around the world congregated there to vote on the resolutions that they had been debating for the previous two days.
This year’s conference is the first at which students were given the chance to sit in the chairs of real ambassadors at the UN General Assembly. Judith Cunningham, the Executive Director of MMUN, expressed these sentiments on behalf of the students. “We had an amazing final assembly at the UN today. We had 1,400 people, 850 delegates, and they passed resolutions in each of the councils.” She also congratulated the delegates for their hard work. “The students were organized, focused and thoughtful in their resolutions.”
Delegates spoke for themselves as well. Dean, a student from New Jersey, spoke briefly about his experience at the 2011 MMUN. “It was really exciting and fun,” he said. “I’ve been learning about a lot of cultures and a lot of different views.” Nicholas, a ten year old delegate working on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), eagerly described his work to South-South News. “We were working a resolution in UNDP. We’re trying to get water to people who don’t have any clean water.” Sarah from Hilton Head was also energized and motivated by the debates. “I’ve learned that there are many problems but children can change them as much as adults can.”
Participants in this year’s conference were spared no controversy or complexity in the topics that they were assigned to resolve. The world’s most volatile and divisive issues, like nuclear proliferation, violence against women, and ethnic conflict were all on the table. One Security Council meeting was forced to deal with a hypothetical crisis in which CIA operatives had kidnapped embattled Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Just like real UN ambassadors, these students had to be ready for anything.
At a meeting of the UNDP, Laos sponsored a resolution that would create education programs designed to inform those in developing countries about the importance of fresh water resources, and the need for conservation. On the Security Council, Austria called for a three pronged solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict, consisting of a reversion to 1948 national borders, the establishment of a free Jerusalem open to any faith, and the creation of a council consisting of representatives of Muslims, Christians, and Jews to discuss issues as they arise.
Many resolutions passed by wide margins, showing the level of agreement that these students were able to achieve. Others, like a plan adopted by the UN Environmental Programme to curb fuel emissions and invest in alternative energy, passed by a mere two vote margin (29 for, 27 against, 10 abstaining). Other resolutions showed the creativity of youthful delegates, like a Nigeria sponsored plan to build an enormous dome over any nuclear material currently volatile in North Korea. All of the resolutions adopted on Saturday showed both the depth of research and hard work put into this conference by students and the imagination that they brought to discussions that have long lingered in the halls of the General Assembly.
The venue was not the exclusive source of this excitement. Students were also addressed by a litany of distinguished speakers, including Ambassador GarenNazarian of Armenia, Ambassador Vince Henderson of Dominica, and Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, the President of South-South News, all of whom congratulated students on their achievements at this conference, and encouraged them to continue developing into the leaders of tomorrow. “I strongly believe you will be the most accomplished leaders in any area or career youdecide to build because from young age you have an understanding thatall citizens of the world, regardless of country, have common issues and challenges to overcome,” Ambassador Lorenzo told them.
They were also addressed by Sally Kader, the President of the United States Federation for Middle East Peace, who inspired students by reminding them to fight for their rights as made explicit in perhaps the most important document to ever come from the UN; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Closing remarks were made by Jonathan Granoff, the President of the Global Security Institute, who charged delegates with the task of holding their leaders accountable for their actions and challenging them to improve the lives of children around the world.
The closing of the 2011 Montessori Model UN meant a return home for the students from around the world who came together at the UN headquarters in the spirit of camaraderie, communication, and international cooperation. They left the conference with a greater understanding of the mechanisms of the UN systems, and of their own power as individuals and future leaders.