Students get ready for UN-style debate
The anticipation is high and the excitement palpable as 24 secondary school students from nine schools across the country ready themselves for the conclusion of the second instalment of the model United Nations project organized by the Rotary Clubs of Barbados.
“The president of the country I am representing wears a cowboy hat, so I’m going to buy one and wear it the next time I come here,” said Romario Griffith of Harrison College, the South Sudan representative.
While his comment appears to be light-hearted, it is anything but that.
It is all part of Griffith’s plan to immerse himself fully in to the character of the president of the African state for the plenary session that takes places on Saturday at UN House, which would close off the 2014 initiative that began on February 15.
Griffith, who was at the time dressed in a black jacket with tie, said it was all about looking and being “professional”.
“I take absolute pleasure in putting on a suit and tie because it has to be a complete experience; you have to run the gamut of it. It’s not just coming here and giving a couple of speeches,” he said.
The model project was first introduced last year by Rotary Bridgetown, Rotary South and Rotary West to expose secondary school students to the processes of the United Nations and its member states.
“I really love international relations. There’re a lot of subtleties and complexities to it that people don’t generally understand. I have high job expectations. I would like to work for the International Criminal Court,” Griffith said.
“Right now, I’m debating and the type of debating is world affairs-based; so this is extremely helpful in beginning that process for me. This is fundamental to my career. Because you see the subtleties of these international connections and how countries react to others. You also have to do a lot of research.”
Seventeen-year-old Ebony Wilson of The St Michael School was among those who volunteered for the programme.
She explained having a passion for public speaking and an interest in international relations, which has been fuelled by the diplomatic careers of a number of her relatives.
“I find it’s a very good experience because we’re learning a lot about current affairs and international affairs as well. It also opens our eyes to things that are happening outside the Caribbean region,” she said.
“It has been a lot of work. It’s a lot of research. You are constantly on the UN website, constantly on Facebook because they also update information to the Facebook page. Sometimes during school hours we may have to get together as a team and sort out our speeches. It’s a lot of work that goes into it.”
As for what’s expected of her on Saturday, Wilson said much of the preparation was mental.
At the start of the initiative, Najee Goring also of The St Michael School, knew nothing about Belgium.
But he had no choice but to learn since that is the country he is representing at the model assembly.
He also had to learn the parliamentary style of debate, which is far different from the debating he is accustomed to, being a member of his school debating club.
And he freely admits that combining his studies with his preparation for the programme has not been easy.
“Many of the issues we deal with, such as empowerment of women and their changing roles in society, as well as the environmental sustainability, are covered in the CAPE syllabus. I decided it would definitely help with the exams,” said the 17-year-old said, who is pursuing a career in the legal field.
Goring added: “As much fun as this was, I still have to get back to schoolwork. On Saturday I would get to show what I’ve learned; how my skills from the time I joined to the time at present have expanded in terms of speaking, researching and presentation . . . .”
After taking part in the 2013 edition, Ade O’Neal of Combermere School said his eyes “were opened”, since he learned a lot about international diplomacy, in addition to improving his public speaking skills.
“It’s a lot of research. Not only do you have to research your country’s position, but you also have to see the positions of other member states. So you have to know what you stand for, what they want to see come forward in any resolution,” said O’Neal, the representative for Zimbabwe.
He, too, is interested in pursuing a career in international relations.
The Combermere student is not the only teen participating in the programme for the second year.
So too is 17-year-old Khadisha Baker of the Frederick Smith Secondary School.
“It was stressful I would admit; and sometimes you get headaches; but it’s worth it,” said Barker, the representative for Afghanistan.
Describing herself as outspoken and opinionated, the 17-year-old said: “Before last year, I knew nothing about the UN. I heard about UNICEF which is connected to the UN. This has opened my eyes to see what people are doing to try to make this world a better one for everybody.”
Both Janine Chase, project manager of Youth-IN for the United Nations Development Programme for Barbados and the OECS, and Sonya Alleyne, past president of Rotary Club of Barbados South, praised the dedication and commitment of the students.
“It can shape their careers, how they think about international affairs and things happening in their own countries. They can make more informed decisions and educate other young people,”
Alleyne added: “Last year we found people coming in with fixed ideas about what they wanted to be, but by the end of it, you had people doing an about-face and investigating international relations careers.
“And that is, I think, what motivates us to continue, because we see how life-changing it can be. Unbelievable what happens and how they show up the next week and present themselves.”
This 2014 model assembly is focusing on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and environmental sustainability of the Millennium Development Goals.