This was the backdrop as my family and I said one last goodbye to our suburban house in Calgary and headed toward the glitzy high-rises of downtown Toronto.
I felt a mixture of both excitement and dread at the thought of moving to a new city. Among my many fears, the most prominent were those having to do with school and making new friends. More than anything, I hoped to become more involved in my new school and join a team that I was truly passionate about.
I had always been interested in exploring the realm of politics and global affairs. I could spend hours delving into subjects ranging from Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum to the Yemeni Civil War. However, I found myself unable to discuss my opinions on these topics. Being timid and petite by nature, I was often written off as childlike and naive by many adults, who would give me the “but you’re still a kid” attitude if I ever tried to express my ideas on politics.
Consequently, in my new school, I hoped to be more active and join a club that would enable me to voice my opinions and debate with other students. This desire led me to make the rather bold decision of joining my school’s Model United Nations Team.
My new friends usually met this news with a puzzled look and then asked, “What is that, modeling or something?”
I would laugh and try to explain that Model UN is an activity where students role-play delegates in the United Nations and simulate UN committees. At this point, both adults and kids typically lost interest, seeing it as dull and boring.
But when I joined, I realized that Model UN was quite the opposite of dull and boring. I went to conferences where we discussed topics ranging from the water crisis in sub-Saharan Africa to nuking North Korea. There were committees where teams of students attempted to resolve the issue of nuclear proliferation or role-played Star Wars characters during the clone wars.
I initially observed the heated debate in awe as delegates strategically attacked one another, using fancy words like “pernicious” and “non sequitur.” At first, I was intimidated by the older students in the room, as I feared that if I spoke, I would be belittled and harshly judged by them. I feared that they, like the adults I had grown up with, would ask condescendingly, “but what do you know?”
Despite this initial fear, it wasn’t long before I decided to join in on the fun. I still remember my second conference, where I, as the delegation of Syria, discussed the Syrian War in a General Assembly made up of 70 other delegates.
My breathing became rapid and shallow as the chair uttered the words, “Delegate of Syria, you now have the floor.”
I remember my pulse pounding in my temples as I stared at the eyes of the room, all fixated on me. I felt a sea of anxiety deep down that made my palms clammy and my breath shorter. But after 10 painfully long seconds, I finally managed to find my voice and start my speech.
Rather than taking a neutral and boring stance, I decided to spice things up by aggressively condemning the “corrupt capitalist pigs of the West.” I enjoyed seeing shocked and intrigued faces in the committee as I laid out a plan for the abolishment of Western intervention. It was then that I realized the power and potential of my own voice.
The soft panic that I had felt gradually subsided, replaced by an overwhelming sense of confidence and self-assurance. My quiet, shaky voice had become more strong and assertive. I finished the speech beaming with pride and shocked by my newfound eloquence.
The speech created an uproar as other delegates and I went head-to-head debating the merits of different ideas and discussing their implementation.
Eventually, we authored a resolution, which is a document that resolves the topics of discussion. This acts as an olive branch or peace symbol that is extended between countries with opposing stances. Through creating a resolution, we were able to master the true challenge of governance, which is establishing a fair trade-off that appeases countries with differing views. Through connecting and collaborating with various delegates, I began to learn the art of compromise and the importance of cooperation.
I realized that diplomacy, a powerful and peaceful tool, has the ability to bind the world together and save the lives of millions of people. Model UN not only revived my faith in the human spirit but also showed me how we can create change together by using our voices to promote goals of peace and prosperity. It didn’t make me a new person but made me discover my hidden self. I am no longer shy of speaking in public, and my voice is no more a shout in the dark. My voice can now be heard, and I can be the change I wish to see in the world.
Ameena Naqvi is in the 11th grade at White Oaks Secondary School in Toronto, Canada. Her hobbies include drawing, playing the flute, and reading. She has a passion for music and writing.
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