On March 10-12, the first ever South Kazakhstan Model United Nations delegation attended the Miras International School Model United Nations 2011 conference in Kazakhstan, held in Almaty. For those who don’t know, Model UN (MUN, for short) is aneducational activity where students represent the various countries of theworld in committees that simulate the real United Nations. Delegates must research their countries,write position papers, give speeches representing their country’s positionabout the given committee topic, and work together with delegates from othercountries to write a resolution. Model UN is thus unique in that it simultaneously teaches critical thinking skills, public speaking, research and writing, teamwork, and diplomacyalong with a range of international relations substantive issues ranging fromhuman rights to nuclear disarmament to science and technology. As an educational module it exemplifies“participatory/active learning” (see the following learning pyramid –you retain 10% of the information you read, 20% of the information you hear,but 75% of the information you DO by role-playing or other simulation educationalactivities).
Aaron (the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Shymkent)and I started the South Kazakhstan Oblast (SKO) Model UN team together earlierthis winter. We are, if I do sayso myself, a particularly qualified pair to pioneer this program. Aaron worked at the real United Nationsas a tour guide before he came to Kazakhstan, his job for 2 years being toinform people about all the various aspects of the UN and what they do. He is also astoundingly well-versed ina wide variety of global current events and substantive issues (having CNN athome also helps;). As for me,Model UN was one of my biggest extracurricular activities in college, where Iserved in almost every possible position (board member, secretariat member, moderator,director, assistant director, charge d’affaires, etc.) of the largest high school and college conferences in the country (Harvard Model UN and Harvard National Model UN, respectively). One of my primary contributions to our team is thus training our delegates onhow to prepare for a student conference, including debate skills and the intricate details of committee procedure.
[Flashback to HNMUN 2007, opening ceremonies with ~3,000 students – I’m the 4th Secretariat member from the right ;)]
For MISMUN 2011, we brought a delegation of 26 students (20 high school and 6college-level) and 5 chaperones to the conference. An extraordinary amount of logistical work of course goes into coordinating a project like this,which Aaron and I have been swamped with for the last few months. This included fundraising (more on ourdonors later), arranging transportation and accommodation, coordinating withschools, students and chaperones, getting official parental and school permissionfor participants, getting the correct travel documents for everyone who isunder 16, and a million other little things. Being a team coach (we called them “faculty advisors” at HNMUN) definitely made me appreciate the role in a whole new way, as at any given moment someone is sick, someone has lost something, someone needs to go somewhere and come back, something needs to be arranged with hotel/meals,someone wants substantive help with their working papers or has questions about procedure, etc. And then on top of all these usual things that any MUN team experiences, you add the special Kazakhstan factor. On the train ride to Almaty alone I had to deal with document problems for the underage delegates (for which the conductor tried to exhort a bribe), drunk men in the train harrassing our female delegates, and random strange men being let intoour compartments by the conductor without a ticket (for a bribe, of course) to sleep on the “третья полка” (third bunk) where luggage is normally kept. When we got to the hotel I then had to haggle for the rooms whose price had suddenly inflated from the one we’d agreed on in advance, bargain for discounted dinners and breakfasts or our delegates, and coordinate free transportation with the conference organizers – all so our donors’ money could go as long of a way as possible for our wholedelegation. Luckily, as one of our British donors later told me, I am a “tough bird” – or, as Aaron often fondly says, “scary.” 😛 Honestly though in those situations a no-nonsense attitude is pretty indispensable, because otherwise the complete lack of accountability and pervasiveness of corruption makes normally going about your business a daily nightmare. I am proud to say that in the end we managed to conduct our entire trip bribe-free, and for ~$1000 in donations transported our entire delegation of 31to Almaty, housed them in two hotels, transported them to and from the conference daily, and even covered meals and incidentals for our delegates most in financial need.
[All of us off the train, having (finally) made it safely to the conference!]
Students from our delegation included those from small villages in South Kazakhstan with very limited access to services and distinctly rural living conditions. Many of them had never been to Almaty before, and for some this trip was their first ever venture out of South Kazakhstan. We also had students fromShymkent’s Micro-Access Program (funded by the U.S. embassy), which gives educational scholarships to youth from underprivileged families in the city. When we arrived to Almaty and some of the village delegates saw the 5-star hotel rooms that had been so generously donated to our delegation, they at first thought it was some kind of a mistake – one young delegate walked around touching the walls of the place and joyfully told me over a phone call that “Becca, this hotel, it is a luxurious!!!” And when they entered the expansive MISMUN campus with its smart boards, chic interior design and giant assembly hall, many of them gazed wide-eyed in wonder. Upon seeing the foreboding podium and microphone with multiple flags in the auditorium, one of our students worriedly asked me: “Do we have to go up THERE to speak?!” And indeed, every one of them did go up that first day togive their well-prepared opening speeches (WITHOUT reading off their papers!:),and over the course of the three-day conference and many additional speeches their intimidation had disappeared and was replaced by comfort and confidence. We are so proud that there was no palpable difference in the English level and content of our kids compared to their international school counterparts, and that they now have tangibly demonstrated the ability to carry out an act that indeed many adults and native English speakers around the world fear.
[MISMUN opening ceremonies keynote speaker Laura Kennedy, from UNESCO Kazakhstan]
[Our SKO team delegate Kamila from Sairam Village, representing Cambodia]
Over the course of the three days, our General Assembly highschool delegates discussed, collaborated on and passed resolutions about three diverse and important topics: microfinance, child soldiers and environmental sustainability. Aaron and I were even invited in a special speaker simulation as the Special Envoys to Israel and Palestine discussing children in wartime situations, and improv-ed a heated debate that I think was sufficiently entertaining for the entire committee.;) Our college students debated HIV and TB in their World Health Organization committee, and dealt with a smallpox crisis outbreak that wiped out half the British royal family and Malia Obama (oh dear). Of the 2 committees in which our SKO delegates participated,half the final awards recognized our team’s delegates! Special congratulations to AhmadzhanAbdiganiev (Chile, GA Outstanding Delegate, from Karabulak village), Akmaral Sman (France, GA Outstanding Delegate, from Shymkent), Dilrabo Sultanmaratova(New Zealand, GA, Best Resolution, from Sairam village), Evgenia Grebenkina(United Kingdom, WHO, Outstanding Delegate, from Shymkent) and Dina Baildilyaeva (South Africa, WHO, Best Delegate, from Shymkent).
[Recognized outstanding delegates of the General Assembly!]
I myself served as the moderator and chair of UNICEF, where our topics were universal education and teenage pregnancy. It was great to get to meet other motivated students from international schools around Almaty in my committee,many of whom were also in the troughs of the intensive International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (from which Aaron and I both graduated, way back when!). Miras put together agreat program and everyone learned so much, in addition to making new friends and unforgettable memories. After conference hours Aaron also organized a wonderful tour for our kids of KIMEP (one of the best universities in Kazakhstan, which is English-based, hires foreign professors and operates on the American credit system), and a speaker session by a journalist fixer friend of his in Almaty who has worked with BBC and the New York Times. These additional events also helped the kids learn about the diversity of educational and career opportunities available to them and connect them with resources that will help them continue developing their English, learning and future job potential. We also had lots of fun at our “diskoteka” and karaoke evening activities for the delegates, where they were able to sing, dance and bond with the rest of the team.
[SKO team girls with our karaoke hero]
This post would not be complete without a very important thank you to our donors, all of whom were private individuals who extended their own generosity to us. None of this could have been possible without Mr. Jeff Temple, Mr. Roger Holland, Mr. Arik,and Mr. Stefan Schandera. Jeff is an Englishman who worked for PetroKazakhstan in Shymkent for 9 years and since retiring has been repeatedly coming back to support social projects in the community with his own time and money. He founded our Friday English Club which is still running, has beendoing an advocacy project on the lead pollution problem in Shymkent, and has given donations and networking support to various grassroots NGOs (including mine!). When Aaron and I approached Jeff about our project, he was immediate in his support and within days had found us Roger, Arik and Stefan as additional donors to make our entire team’s trip possible. Also in need of huge thanks are Mr. Stephen Taynton (the MISMUN2011 organizer), Mr. Saparbayev (owner of Hotel Sapan in Almaty) and Daulet (manager of the Tau-Otau Hotel in Almaty), who helped house and feed our participants throughout the three days of the conference. When I met with Roger Holland in Almaty to share the results of the conference once it was over, I was left with an enormous sense of personal gratitude and satisfaction – not only for the generosity of his support in the project, but also the general feeling that such good people in this world do exist and share a like-minded philosophy of investing in the community and seeing the personal development of its individuals. I realized that though I somehow lack the strong desire to accrue the wealth necessary to be such a private philanthropist, my calling lies with directing the goodwill and resources of such people effectively and transparently to realize worthwhile,results-orientated causes. I alsohope that this success story in Kazakhstan private donorship can inspire other NGO workers and people conducting social projects to seek out individual giving as a form of resource diversification and financial sustainability.
[Team photo at closing ceremonies!]
MISMUN 2011 was an amazing first conference for our delegates, and I hope it will not be the last. Our next steps are to build up the team’s human resource sustainability (as Aaron and I will not be here next year), electing student officers, identifying future conferences to attend (maybe even abroad inMoscow, Bishkek, Paris – or Harvard!:), and even planning our own conference for Central Asia-wide delegations in Shymkent! If any other PCVs would like to talk to me about starting aModel UN club in your region, please feel free. A great resource, replete with ready-made MUN team curricula and handouts for beginning clubs, is located at http://www.unausa.org/modelun.