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Underprivileged students take stage at model UN debate

It is a conference filled with debating a country’s perspective, fixing accountability, and resolving the issue as a whole committee. These kids are not the kind who talk about social issues; they are so zoomed into their own communities. TFI-MUN gives them a platform to actually talk about global issues, says Sagar Kathirsal, a TFI Fellow heading the TFI-MUN Core Committee

pune Updated: Jan 23, 2018 16:28 IST
Sowmya S
Sowmya S
Hindustan Times, Pune
pune,Underprivileged students,model UN debate
Students from low-income schools at the Teach for India’s model United Nations held at MIT on Sunday.(HT PHOTO)

While a majority of Punekars were snoozing at the crack of dawn on Sunday, nearly 50 students — wearing grey uniforms — braved the cold to board a yellow bus outside Hadapsar’s Ideal English Medium School.

The bus took them to Kothrud’s Maharashtra Institute of Technology, where they joined 200 other underprivileged students from nearly 25 low-income schools across Pune to debate, collaborate and resolve global issues in the third edition of Teach for India’s Model United Nations (TFI-MUN).

Teach for India is a non-governmental organisation working to bridge educational inequity. It offers a two-year Fellowship for graduates and working professionals, and places them as teachers in low-income schools across India.

TFI-MUN, as the name suggests, is a simulated version of the United Nations. On Sunday, these students formed four primary (such as WHO, UNEP) and four secondary councils (such as UNSC, SOCHUM), represented different nations as delegates, and debated on issues such as racism, food security, climate change, drug trafficking, and terrorism, among others.

Sagar Kathirsal, a TFI Fellow heading the TFI-MUN Core Committee, says the conference — which was piloted in Bombay in 2013 — came to Pune in 2015. “It is a conference filled with debating a country’s perspective, fixing accountability, and resolving the issue as a whole committee. These kids are not the kind who talk about social issues; they are so zoomed into their own communities. TFI-MUN gives them a platform to actually talk about global issues.”

Imbibing confidence, discipline

Student delegates say the TFI-MUN training-cum-experience has helped them become confident and disciplined.

“(I thought) I would not be able to talk with anyone and if they (other student delegates) counter me, my confidence will break. When I came here and saw how people spoke, it gave me an influence that I have to also talk and not feel shy,” says Khashman Shaikh, a Class 8 student at Epiphany High School, Guruwar Peth.

Khashman attended the conference for the first time on Sunday. He discussed ‘Islamic State and Global Terrorism’ as China’s delegate in the United Nations Security Council.

Fifteen-year-old Mahesh Srinivas Jalnila, a student of Class 10 at iTeach Shri Vitthal Tupe, Hadapsar, has been participating in MUNs for nearly two years. He studied at a Telugu-medium school in Telangana (the pre-bifurcated Andhra Pradesh) till Class 4. He migrated to Pune in Class 5 and enrolled in an English-medium school.

“I was scared...I couldn’t speak in English...I didn’t even know there were so many countries…(Later) I got to know about different people, and their problems…..when I was in MUN, I learnt communication,” says the student, who won the Best Delegate award in last year’s TFI-MUN.

Sagar, who teaches Social Studies to classes 8 and 9 at Ideal English Medium School in Hadapsar, says the project focuses on grooming student leaders into effective public speakers. He says he saw a spike in the confidence levels among children who regularly participated in MUNs. “Kids who never used to talk in class have started voicing out (opinions).”

He says MUN has also helped the children behave well. “The decorum (in the classroom) has increased as everyone is expected to behave like a delegate.”

Building transferrable skills, knowledge

TFI’s students, trainers and teachers believe the MUN experience has enabled the delegates to acquire skills such as scientific research and problem-solving.

Mahesh Jalnila, whose parents iron clothes for a living, says it is crucial to research about the agenda and the country allotted to a delegate before participating in MUN. “Before MUN, I never researched anything…..I didn’t even know how to type or get information (from the Internet).”

His English teacher Robin Kumar (lead teacher at iTeach Shri Vitthal Tupe, Hadapsar) says Mahesh and his classmates have learnt to examine global agendas through a multi-dimensional lens. “When a kid gets a country where his/her ideology doesn’t match (with that of the country’s), he/she learns to understand different perspectives that lay around the topic.”

Robin’s student Sana Arif Qureshi, who is in Class 10, says MUN helped her learn the art of diplomacy and persuasion. “I started MUNing in the sixth grade. I’ve done almost 11 MUNs. We learn collaboration as we work with people unknown to us and we need convince them (about the country’s stance on the agenda).”

Inculcating values

Some students view MUN as a refresher course in value education. Siddhesh Balwar, a Class 10 student at Epiphany High School in Guruwar Peth, says the two MUNs that he has attended taught him patience. “A delegate needs to wait for the right moment and speak up.”

He says MUN has helped him understand the power of words. “In MUN, you need to be careful as your words can break relationships with allies (in UN councils)...In life, if we break relationships, our family will break, and our life will be of no use.”

For Sana, MUN represents humanity. “UNO stands for peace...People are coming together and finding solutions…there’s no better place for it…,” exclaims the starry-eyed student, who dreams of becoming a journalist or a lawyer, and fighting for the rights of her people.

First Published: Jan 23, 2018 16:28 IST