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Collaborative Outreach Drives Model United Nations Initiative in Afghanistan
By Lisa Martin 10-Dec-15
The Model United Nations is known for many things: great oratory, passionate students who love delving into international affairs, and growth in leadership and interpersonal skills are but a few. But 2015 saw another element added to this global community—that of collaborative mentorship, and truly impressive examples of youth empowerment that put a new twist on this much loved extracurricular program. Born out of the Qatar Leadership Conference in October 2014, Head of THIMUN Qatar—Lisa Martin along with UN Habitat Afghanistan’s country lead Peter Dalglish—began to discuss ways Afghan students might access educational programs normally out of reach. The idea of online collaboration via the THIMUN Online (OMUN) platform quickly morphed into a much larger undertaking. At the closing of the Qatar Leadership Conference, the THIMUN Qatar Afghanistan Initiative was launched, thus beginning a unique period of collaboration and mentorship between students in Afghanistan and around the world. Through these efforts, five Afghan students—two girls and three boys—were able to attend the THIMUN Qatar Conference in February 2015. For three months, students from Qatar and around the world mentored the five novice delegates (as well as a larger group from Dalglish’s “Super English” class). These students worked together via Skype, Blackboard Collaborate, and Facebook to prep and train one another. The Kabul Five, as they were affectionately called by the organizers, arrived in Doha not only bursting with enthusiasm, but armed with policy statements, opening speeches, and resolutions. The Afghan delegates participated successfully in their committee. They also took the conference by storm, making friends, holding press conferences, networking with students from around the world, and in one special case, forming close ties with the John Burroughs School from Missouri (U.S.). The two delegations played tourist together, visiting the Islamic Art Museum, the souk, and even taking a very special Dhow ride. The Afghan students also visited the American School of Doha’s Sports Day, were invited to an old-fashioned BBQ, and went to a mall and to the movies (a risky activity in Afghanistan)—all for the very first time. If pulling off the trip to Doha seemed rather miraculous, what happened next was even more so, because it could have easily ended there. But as we know, once the MUN seed is planted, it is often quick to take root. And so the Kabul Five, armed with ideas, newfound knowledge and experience, and a global network of friends and supporters, began their own journeys as MUN leaders, working together to launch Afghanistan Model United Nations (AFMUN). On a cold day in early March, the first THIMUN meeting was held at the Skateistan compound in Kabul. The MUN novice delegates turned MUN club leaders welcomed 22 students into their opening club session—11 girls and 11 boys—a remarkable feat in a country where girls are extremely underrepresented in educational programs. A “What is MUN?” session was held, and our club leaders began to review the basics. Again, with the collaborative support of their network of students around the world, they began to teach their new club members how to be MUN delegates. According to delegate-turned-club-president Rahmat Hamdard, “The students who participated in the MUN Afghanistan club are all from different ethnicities, but most of them are from poor families. They are all hard working children, but all of them are creative! The reaction when we selected them for the club was that they couldn’t even believe that they would be included in a project like this. There are very few organizations which are providing international opportunities and MUN is that kind project. They are all so excited, willing to work hard in the class to make the most of the opportunity.” The THIMUN Qatar-Afghanistan initiative is now in its ninth month. Based on the success of the club, the second delegation from Afghanistan will be prepping soon for THIMUN Qatar 2016. This time, they will be taught by their own club leaders with their MUN network playing only a supporting role. If MUN is about youth empowerment, then the THIMUN Qatar Afghanistan Initiative has come full circle. Lisa Martin is Head of THIMUN Qatar, and Founder of Online Model United Nations.
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