Shawn Gong has always wanted to participate in a Model United Nations assembly since discovering them more than a year ago.
The 18-year-old, Grade 12 student at Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate and Vocational Institute has made that happen, gathering community support to create Northwestern Ontario’s first Model United Nations conference, which will be held next month.
While students from various high schools had travelled to participate in conferences in places such as Winnipeg and Toronto, having the event in Thunder Bay makes it more accessible to a greater number of students.
“I realized that funding would go towards making a meaningful experience for maybe one or two students whereas with that same funding we could make the same meaningful experience for more than 100 students if we held our own,” Gong said at a media conference announcing the event on Tuesday.
Model UN conferences are run in a manner similar to the real United Nations assembly. Participants are assigned a country, for which they act as delegates. They are to represent their assigned country exactly as they would on a global stage.
That means learning about and gaining perspective on the assigned country’s viewpoints and positions on a host of issues
It gives young people a forum to learn about foreign issues, such as unrest in countries such as Syria and the Ukraine, while encouraging discussion and debate.
“I think what Model UN stands for is a safe environment where students can discuss those issues and debate them,” Gong said.
“Obviously those are issues people feel passionate about and ultimately I feel that is what makes Model UN a valuable club.”
Churchill principal David Isherwood was not overly familiar with the process of how a Model UN conference operated before it was presented to him.
Now that he is starting to learn about the criteria, he views it as a perfect opportunity to get more students engaged in current events and develop leadership skills.
“As schools we’re looking at active citizenship as a key component of what we can provide for schools and I think it fosters an interest that we underestimate that kids have,” Isherwood said.
“Taking the lead from students who are already active and trying to engage other students is huge. We have great role models and it builds a really positive culture.”
Gong secured funding through the Tbaytel For Good drive and then appeared before the education committee with the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce.
It is expected that 100 students will participate in the event and information has been sent to other city schools looking for participants and teacher supports.
The conference is scheduled to take place on April 4 at Confederation College.
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