Sunday August 26, 2012
By AMINUDDIN MOHSIN
Teens and young adults speak up on current issues and a wide range of topics they are passionate about in a “UN assembly”.
WHO would have thought that mock United Nations (UN) assembly sessions organised independently by a group of young people in Selangor could bring together the voices of their peers into a cohesive choir, audible enough to capture public attention.
The Selangor Model United Nations (SMUN) did just that as it roped in more than 250 delegates to its inaugural UN simulations. The result was a ground-breaking first assembly which saw intelligent debate in every niche, from environment to security and defence. It even drew in participants from outside Selangor.
SMUN founder and secretary-general Yau Hui Min, 18, said the vision behind SMUN was one of equal opportunity, to share the model United Nations experience with all young Malaysians.
“The experience here in Malaysia is limited to private and international schools. I was lucky that SMK Bandar Utama 4, the school I went to had set up a model United Nations that I could participate in.
“It was with the model United Nations assembly in mind that I decided to set up a similar one for all students, especially those in government schools who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to participate,” she said.
She added that the in-depth research done by participants combined with fluent and informed debate was only matched by their enthusiasm and flair.
“Each and every ‘delegate’ presented their case with clarity and a deep understanding of the issues at hand. They did the youth of Malaysia proud.
“The average age of the delegates was between 15 and 18, but there were some who were in their 20s but regardless of how old they were, they wrote, debated and negotiated resolutions amicably and resolutely,” said Hui Min.
The Taylor’s College Sri Hartamas A-Levels student explained that SMUN was a platform that helped youth find their voice and participate in discussions concerning current issues.
“It gives youth the chance to participate in meaningful discussions on issues that affect them, issues they will inherit as adults.
“However, the biggest bonus in participating in the model United Nations is finding your voice, speaking out on things you are passionate about, all the while boosting your confidence and debating skills.
“One day when these students step out of university, they will move with confidence as they have a good grasp of current issues,” said Hui Min.
She elaborated that the SMUN theme was “lift as you climb” to signify that success can be shared with cooperation.
Hui Min explained that organising the model United Nations was a colossal effort for the SMUN team which required Skype calls at 3am and long hours of planning.
“There were all kinds of stumbling blocks. For a start we had no bank account for the finances, so we had to open one.
“Then we had to figure out how to send out invitations to as many people possible; thankfully that’s where the power of acquaintances step in and we managed it rather well,” she said.
She added that SMUN was designed by students for students and the organising team did everything for free.
“We managed this on our own with no affiliation to any other organisations. We hope it inspires other youth. With the advent of social media we have greater reach, we have to realise this power. Our video online has more than 1,000 views!
“Conferences like SMUN are necessary for the youth. Education is not just about academics, important as it may be ... but what about basic knowledge and helping others. Through SMUN we can build incubator-like environments that can create paradigm shifts,” said Hui Min.
On hand at the conference’s closing ceremony was Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah who applauded the organisers of SMUN for putting together a conference without any outside help.
“This is the first model United Nations in the country to be organised independently and wholly by students. It is something to be proud of and a sign of maturity among our youth.
“What’s more, they aren’t even final year students. This is what Malaysia needs — youth empowerment— enabling young people to think and act on their own,” he said.
He added that the empowerment starts at home, normally it is parents who decide what to do during holidays and weekends, why not let the children decide?
“Even when choosing which stream to take in school whether science or arts, the parents decide and not the child. Everyone needs to pitch in to facilitate this empowerment.
“We will be there to provide wisdom and guidance, but they must be allowed to think, make decisions and act on them,” said Saifuddin.
He added that there are three major demands of youth today. “They want their voices to be heard, they want their talents recognised and they want issues related to them to be addressed under their terms and centred around them.
“No one can claim they know issues affecting youth apart from youth themselves. We need to include them in the decision-making process. The major reason some of our policies don’t work is because we don’t listen to them,” he said.
Saifuddin added that the SMUN quality of debate was better than that of parliament.
“At least the intense SMUN debates did not degenerate into name-calling and shouting matches. These young Malaysians maintained the decorum expected of them throughout the conference,” he said. He added that students who participated in the SMUN must find ways to ensure that the resolutions they finalised after their debates and negotiations were heard by others outside the conference.