Model United Nations brings international issues alive for students

Published 7:21 pm Friday, March 5, 2010

Zac Calhoun admitted he was nervous. “I have to present the resolution,” the Charles Henderson Middle School student said early Thursday. “I’m nervous.”

Representing the country of Thailand, Calhoun and his group were participating in the South Alabama Model United Nations. This day, they were seeking funding from the United Nations to pay for training and support to boost a sagging tourism industry in Thailand. “It’s been declining since the tsunami,” Calhoun said.

Unfortunately, the resolution failed to pass the review of a tough committee early in the day. And, just like dozens of other real-life proposals brought before the United Nations, a worthy idea failed to garner enough support to warrant the action of the larger group.

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Understanding the issues of individual countries and how they affect the other nations taking part in the assembly is a key concept of the Model United Nations, as is learning about the real-life critical issues facing nations around the world.

“It’s been a great opportunity for students to learn about other countries and other cultures,” said Trent Givens, the eighth-grade CHMS history teacher who was participating for the first time this year in the Model UN.

“They are learning that there is life outside these United States.”

Givens’ students represented Georgia, Nicaragua and the Republic of Congo. They presented resolutions dealing with issues ranging from soil depletion and its detrimental effects on agriculture and food production to seeking funds to research and extract natural energy resources in Nicaragua, including geothermal energy and oil.

“The students representing Congo learned that the country is in the midst of a civil war, where they’ve had 10 million people die over the past five to 10 years,” Given said. “They’re seeking money for training for their soldiers, to be able to put an end to the war.”

War. Food shortages. Energy shortages … All real issues, all much larger than most students study on a normal day in history class. But that’s exactly what Givens and Paul Gilbert, the CHMS history teacher and long-time advisor to the Model UN, say works so well about this program.

“When my eighth-graders first started this in the fall, they were thinking ‘I’m going to high school next year,’” Givens said. “Now it’s ‘Hey, there’s a country going through a civil war. I’m going to take a vested interest in helping somebody else.’”

Participation for the more than 30 students is funded annually in part by a grant from the Troy City Schools Education Foundation.

Learning about other countries tops the appeal factor, as do the costumes, but participation keeps some coming back.

Olivia Hudson and Jessica Wilkes, both ninth-graders at Charles Henderson High School, were officers with this year’s Model UN.

“It just exposes you to so many different cultures,” said Hudson, the second vice president.

“Plus, you have to get out there and speak in front of people, which is a great experience,” added Wilkes, a clerk. “It’s really interesting to listen to all the issues and resolutions.”

Even for participants with a global view global view, the Model UN proves a place to learn more.

Just as Krisha Patel, who was representing Austria. Her country was seeking harsher punishment to the growing neo-Nazism movement.

“I went to Austria once, but I didn’t know anything about all of this until now,” she said.

Participants from Charles Henderson included Laura Cain, Brandi Eldridge, Savannah Jane Giles, Alex McLendon, Lizzie Orlofsky, Krisha Patel,Wright Graning, Ben Salmon, Riley Williamson, Cole Wilson, Will Young, Allie Cooke, Laura Dobson Caitlin Hicks, Emma Sanders, Natalie Smolcic, Lacey Stallworth, Katherine Bullock, Jordan Jacques, John Johnson, Hunter Kennedy, Jessica Larger, Mollie Sims, Courtney Bobo, Lauren Crosby, Key’ousha Foster, India Gandy, Jeffrey Jordan, Kait Ross, Jacob Bensinger, Taylor Manning, Aiden McNellis, Kym Ross, Mollie Rugg, Kirsten Singleton, Sean Alvarez, Zac Calhoun, Stephen Cooper, Taylor Montgomery, Josh Scott and Chris Troung.