Disgusted of Iraq

5th December 1997 at 00:00
Harvey McGavin watches a mock United Nations meeting for sixth-formers - in deepest Kent.

The banner headlines on the news-stand warned of a looming international crisis at the United Nations. "Iraq blames capitalism for the death of hundreds of children every day," they cried.

Inside the General Assembly, the debate was getting heated. Accusations flew. The United States, the Iraqi delegate declared, was "an imperialist nation imposing its militaristic beliefs on other countries".

But something about the US reply didn't seem quite right: that war was "silly" and they didn't want any trouble. Come to think of it, the international delegates did seem rather young.

And what were they all doing in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall, anyway? The Model United Nations General Assembly (MUNGA), a one-day recreation of the world's major political forum, is a chance for sixth-formers to gain an understanding of the workings of the nearest thing we have to a world parliament.

MUNGAs are run by the Council for Education in World Citizenship, a charity whose aim is to promote understanding of international rights and responsibilities. Patricia Rogers, the council's director, thinks that MUNGAs can complement the curriculum in several ways. As well as raising awareness of the UN, they are a good chance for different kinds of schools to mix - pupils from the comprehensive, grammar and independent sectors, a further education college and a school for the blind were at the Tunbridge Wells event - and an opportunity for them all to develop their confidence and public-speaking skills.

"Some schools say 'if it's not going to help us in the league tables we are not going to do it'," Patricia Rogers admits. "But employers recognise that it gives pupils experience of things like public speaking and problem solving. "

At the Tunbridge Wells MUNGA, pupils from 13 schools represented 33 states chosen at random. After each delegation had introduced themselves, the assembly broke off into committees to discuss resolutions on the environment, drugs trade and population growth. Throughout the day a team of journalists and photographers reported on developments, in both tabloid and broadsheet style, displaying the latest headlines on boards provided by the local paper the Courier.

Bruce Kent, vice-president of CND and of The Forum for UN Renewal, was overseeing the day's proceedings and trying to referee the verbal sparring between Iraq and just about everybody else. He believes too few of our schoolchildren are aware of the work of the UN and its offshoots such as UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Health Organisation.

"Most of us know more about the Highway Code than we do about this," he says, holding up a copy of the UN Charter. Role-playing projects like MUNGA provide a realistic setting for learning about the UN. "This sort of thing helps them discuss and debate and gives them confidence. Most of all it helps them to realise how the international machinery works. Hopefully that gives them a more global view."

The Iraqi delegation certainly questioned their original assumptions when they began to investigate the situation. Once Carol Solley, Joanna de Saulles and Melanie Purdie from Tonbridge Girls Grammar began to research the beleaguered Middle Eastern state, they were surprised by what they found.

"The typical British point of view is that Iraq is bad," said Melanie. "But when we saw what some of the Iraqi people go through, we saw the US in a completely different light."

Diplomacy didn't figure too highly in their game plan, but they put up a stout defence of Islamic law in the debate over population control, and survived the afternoon's emergency resolution to expel them after China vetoed the near unanimous vote.

"It was quite good that we have got a meaty country and we get a chance to be involved," said Carol. "It is very good for your confidence, and you learn a lot about different countries that you had never thought about."

Schools interested in setting up a MUNGA should contact Patricia Rogers at the CEWC on 0171 929 5090

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