The annual New Zealand Model United Nations teaches global citizenship to high school students in an authentic way, by assigning young people to countries and enabling them to experience how the UN works. The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO is a regular sponsor of this event. UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leader Peter McKenzie (pictured holding sign) reflects on the experience.
When thinking of the United Nations and its myriad affiliated institutions, transparency and coherency are not the words which typically spring to mind. Instead, the UN is often perceived as so far removed from the lives of everyday individuals that it is not worth learning about or understanding.
Every year, UN Youth sets about changing that. UN Youth is run by youth and for youth, and annually invites hundreds of youth from across the country to New Zealand Model United Nations (NZMUN) – its premier event. At the event, youth take on the role of a UN member-state, representing its views, learning about what the UN does, and seeing a tangible demonstration of how it is structured.
I was privileged enough to attend NZMUN multiple times during my time at high school, representing countries as diverse as Oman, China and Kiribati. Each year, the lead-up to the event would entail a flurry of research as you learn about the position and perspective of your assigned nation. Arriving at the event, you would get stuck in – shaking hands and sharing thoughts on issues of global importance – from the Syrian crisis, to planetary food supply, to censorship and free speech. It is a very different world from high school classes, and is an unmatched opportunity to learn how to be a global citizen, which UNESCO strongly advocates.
Many of the attendees are lucky enough to meet with the various ambassadors who represent their countries in New Zealand. From the Holy See, to China, to our mates from Aussie, Wellington’s diplomatic corps engages enthusiastically with the event – eager to help spread understanding of the misunderstood world they inhabit every day.
I went along to observe one of the committees in action on the second day of the conference – the model Human Rights Council. Watching youth representing countries as varied as Croatia and Uruguay debating how to appropriately protect minority cultures while still creating a cohesive national identity was awe-inspiring!
Soon after, the conference paused for morning tea, and suddenly the serious and professional participants became the riotous, engaged and funny crowd of teens which they naturally were. Seeing how well the participants and conference organisers melded those two aspects was hugely impressive, and a crucial reason why NZMUN is so successful at making learning about international institutions and global citizenship fun and interesting.
Overall, NZMUN this year has been an unqualified success – engaging students from every background and part of the country, showing them the colourful world that lies beyond our borders, and helping them figure out our country’s place within it. It’s for that reason that the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO is so proud to sponsor and support the event year after year. I’m looking forward to seeing the conference continue its unending upward climb next year!