Over 1,400 high school delegates visited The Hague International Model United Nations – Qatar conference from January 28-31, 2014. A program of the Qatar Foundation and Qatar Academy, THIMUN Qatar is one of the premiere MUN conferences in the Middle East region.
THIMUN Qatar is held at the Qatar National Convention Center, which is one of the nicest venues I’ve ever seen for a Model UN conference: marble walls and floors, high ceilings, lots of natural light. There’s a reflecting pool next to the coffee bar and the auditorium seats are made of Bentley leather. But the first thing you notice when you walk in is the gigantic spider.
The conference was led by Secretary-General Wessam Kanes, a senior at Qatar Academy who has a “genuine passion for MUN” and is apparently a fan of classic rock music.
Wessam impressed me with her mission for the conference: to “create global citizens and future world leaders” through Model United Nations. She sees Model UN as a way to create “international awareness and understanding,” to “facilitate change and give perspective.”
The theme of the conference was sustainable development, which Wessam explained was an important driver for this year’s conference. “A lot of people think of Model UN as the political side: conflicts, wars, etc.,” said Wessam, “but the sustainable development side tends to get overlooked, like clean water, renewable resources, and being environmentally friendly.”
I asked Wessam one of my favorite questions to ask MUNers: “What does Model UN mean to you?” And she told me:
“Model UN is a source of inspiration because it has allowed me to discover my leadership capabilities. MUN is a very comfortable atmosphere, a very familiar place. You feel like you’re part of some thing so grand, but you’re all in this together. I don’t consider this an extracurricular — it’s a part time job — I’m in the THIMUN office before school and after school. It’s unity with diversity.”
This year’s conference was also the last THIMUN Qatar for outgoing Executive Director Cameron Janzen and Conferences Coordinator Ann Rogers. Over the past two years, KFC and I have been working with Cameron and Ann to promote Model UN throughout the Middle East. They have been MUN pioneers, working with hundreds of students to organize THIMUN Qatar and the Qatar Film Festival, and to launch the Qatar Leadership Conference.
I was particularly touched by Cameron’s speech at opening ceremonies. He opened up to a captive audience of students and teachers by sharing his own family history. His grandparents lived through war and famine in early 20th century Russia that killed 6 million people. They would have died if not for the work of a group of dedicated individuals who managed to bring the family to Canada. And as Cameron shared, those heroic efforts reflect one of the biggest lessons that students learn through Model UN:
“It’s always very easy when we’re facing massive problems that seem insurmountable to become discouraged and do nothing. Cynics may point out that this group really didn’t do very much — 6 million people still died, the civil war raged on — on a macro level, they did nothing — they didn’t solve the problem.
But they did save my grandparents. And they are our heroes.
We may not solve the world’s problems, but each and every one of us can make an incredible difference in the lives of others. This is what MUN is all about — it’s about forming people who have empathy towards others, who have the skills to engage in purposeful, peaceful, but well-organized action.”
Schools and delegations came from all over the Middle East region to attend THIMUN Qatar. But one of the most interesting and unusual delegations was not a school — it was the Online MUN delegation, most of whose delegates had never met before coming to the conference!
These delegates had met through online monthly debates organized by THIMUN O-MUN. Through fundraising, sponsorship, the work of partners around the world, and the efforts of founder Lisa Martin, THIMUN O-MUN sent delegations to both THIMUN Qatar and THIMUN Hague, which took place at the same time.
Lisa shared with me her belief that “part of the power of MUN is allowing students to develop the confidence of their own voice and their own leadership.” This is a belief that drives Online MUN and reflects on the entire THIMUN organization, which strongly believes in giving students ownership over the conference organizing and committee management process.
Lisa is also the incoming Executive Director for THIMUN Qatar, and KFC and I have also been working with her over the past couple years to build up Model UN in the Middle East, especially with the launch of the Olive Branch newsletter.
Lisa shared with me her hopes and vision for THIMUN Qatar going forward:
“Whether you are a new delegate or a very experienced student officer, I hope participants of THIMUN Qatar will feel empowered: empowered to act, to speak, and to feel confident enough tackle serious issues. And of course, to have a GREAT time doing it!”
Congratulations to all delegates, advisors, secretariat, and student officers on a great conference! And thank you to Cameron and Ann for having me visit — KFC and I are going to miss you!