The question on their minds when landing in Shanghai’s bustling airport was, “What is Pakistan?” For the first time in history, a Pakistani delegation would be participating in Harvard’s Model United Nations conference (HMUN) for high-school students in China.
“We were no longer children, but young adults, and we understood our responsibilities as representatives of our country. We wanted to counter and clear the misconceptions about Pakistan on the international stage. And I believe my delegation achieved that brilliantly,” said Ammar proudly.
The mature and confident 14-year-old was one of seven students (ages 13-15) hand picked from Karachi’s Links Secondary School to participate in China’s HMUN held in Shanghai between March 17 and March 21, 2011. And their experience was nothing short of spectacular.
“When would we ever get an opportunity to meet 1,500 students from all over the world and interact with them in this environment? This is what you call true multilateralism, and our experience was unbelievable,” Ammar added. Appointed Head Delegate of his group, Ammar expressed his appreciation for his delegation’s efforts and also that he was extremely proud of its members.
He explained that at HMUN, delegates from around the world display their speaking, writing, and negotiating skills by simulating the UN and adopting the roles of world leaders. By no means an easy exercise, Ammar emphasised on the fact that rigorous preparation for the competitive conference were crucial, as research and knowledge on the appointed country were key to any delegation’s success. And with the brightest students being chosen from the world’s top schools, it is fair to say that the competition was challenging. He added that his delegation was selected to represent Venezuela in HMUN activities and debates, except in The Global Village event where his group was allowed to represent Pakistan. “We were one of only fifteen delegations chosen from 150 to perform a cultural dance number, which we did on one of Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s famous songs,” he added proudly.
“Just being selected was challenging, as the children were made to write essays and attend local MUN sessions to meet HMUN’s criteria, which was a six-month process,” said Ammar’s mother, Mrs. Siddiqui, who also accompanied her son during the trip. But it was worth it because she added that the conference was a phenomenal experience for the young delegates. “When our children set up the ‘Ajrak’ stall during The Global Village activity, students from all over the world were curious and excited about Pakistan’s cultural display. Many students wanted to take pictures with the Pakistani delegates after seeing their ethnic attire.”
When describing her experience at the conference, Neha; one of the three female delegates from Pakistan said “meeting new people from different countries, that one didn’t even know existed, was refreshing.” The bright 15-year-old was grateful to have had the opportunity to clear many misconceptions people harbour about Pakistan and its people. “Upon hearing our nationality, some American students seemed surprised that we have schools here and that we even know what MUN is. I told them that we too have educated people in Pakistan,” commenting further that the conference not only exposed the Pakistani delegation to the global community, it also helped others in understanding Pakistan better.
While recalling her most memorable experiences, Neha said that the students she most enjoyed socialising with were the Indian delegates. “I have never had the opportunity to interact with people from India before. We not only share a common history, we also have the same culture and we speak the same language. Therefore, we have a bond. We just haven’t had the opportunity to cement it yet.”
Ammar and Neha both expressed their opinion that every Pakistani should have the opportunity to participate in MUN. “The students who can afford it should be encouraged to travel to different countries to do so, while others, especially those from the less privileged classes, must try and attend local MUN sessions or even form their own. One can start an MUN session in one’s living room.” She added that it must not be considered an activity reserved for the country’s elite minority, explain that MUN touches upon issues such as fighting illiteracy and poverty at the conference and students are asked to debate over their solution. “MUN is not restricted to the English language, so the argument that only the elite can afford to participate in such activities is misinformed.”
A beaming Ammar told The News that he was very proud of the fact that his resolution regarding nuclear proliferation in Venezuela was passed in his respective committee and he will keep the document as a reminder of his life-altering experience at HMUN. “To counter the language barrier with other students, we handed out business cards with our contact details. Some of the relationships I have built during my brief stay in Shanghai will stay with me forever,” he added.