High Schoolers Shape the Sustainable Development Goals at GCI MUN Conference

LAU-led Model UN Simulation Programs are hugely popular among high-school students worldwide.

By Elida Jbeili

The closing ceremony at the General Assembly of the UN Headquarters.
From left: Racha Doumit and Saria Bechara who chose to tackle different SDG goals.
Despite the fact that her high school was not sending a delegation, Marra Finkelstein took the initiative to participate in the conference.
First-time delegate from Shakopee High School in Minnesota Ilhan Mursal represented Somalia in the WHO Committee.

On May 9, 87 high schools, 1,300 high-school students and their 200 advisors from all over the globe including China, Germany, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Qatar, South Korea, Turkey, the UK and the US, arrived in New York City to attend the Global Classrooms International (GCI) Model UN conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in midtown, with the closing ceremony taking place at the General Assembly of the UN Headquarters on May 11.

The theme of this year’s GCI high school Model UN conference was Shape the Strategic Development Goals (SDGs), which invited students to think boldly and innovatively on how to “protect planet Earth, work for peace, establish private-public partnership, and ensure prosperity by 2030,” remarked Assistant Vice President for Outreach and Civic Engagement Elie Samia. “How inspiring,” he said, “when a youth leadership program tackles world issues with mental elasticity and intellectual profundity.”

The SDGs are a set of 17 goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 for the year 2030 which include, among others, ending poverty and ensuring prosperity for all.

During the two-day conference, students formed 13 committees by assuming the established rules of procedures and debated wide-ranging topics such as Food Security within the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis in the World Food Programme committee, Developing a Global Approach to the Integration of the Disabled in the General Assembly Third Committee, and the Situation in Rakhine, Myanmar in the Security Council.

LAU has headed the prestigious GCI brand in New York City since 2016. Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Management at LAU Elise Salem affirmed that these simulation models “epitomize a culture of peace building, leadership development, youth empowerment and civic engagement.”

The high schoolers had the chance to interact with key figures in the fields of diplomacy and international relations, including Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Office at the UN Nata Ménade, and Senior Economic Affairs Officer at the UN Economic and Social Council Eric Olson.

First-time delegate from Shakopee High School in Minnesota Ilhan Mursal – representing Somalia in the WHO Committee – focused on the SDG of eradicating poverty because she believes that everyone should have the right to economic security and an equal opportunity to pursue a top-notch education.

Two LAU student leaders and veteran GCI Model UN conference participants, Racha Doumit and Saria Bechara, had different opinions on which of the 17 SDGs they thought were the most important. Doumit, who chaired the International Civil Aviation Organization committee, argued that Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals, was primary since “it finds the interconnectedness of all the goals by suggesting that everything we do goes toward achieving the SDGs.”

Bechara, chair of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization committee, thought that Goal 5: Gender Equality was the most significant to tackle “because when half of the world’s population is held back, when one in five women under the age of 50 experience rape or physical abuse, and where in over ten countries a man’s testimony holds more weight than a woman’s; the world as a whole cannot progress.”

The two-day conference ended with a closing session at the United Nations General Assembly where delegations were awarded on the basis of position papers, teams and participation. Executive Director of the LAU New York Headquarters and Academic Center Nadim Shehadi pointed out the impact of the conference on the youth: “The skills learned by the participants are invaluable, particularly the LAU student advisors, who had to train and organize over 1,500 kids and explain to them all the complex issues involved.”

A notable illustration of this is Marra Finkelstein, from Indian Hills High School in New Jersey, who represented the State of Kuwait in the World Food Programme committee. This was her third participation in a GCI Model UN conference starting from middle school and continuing into high school. When she found out her high school doesn’t send a delegation, she decided to participate on her own, aware of the value of GCI Model UN has on improving her negotiation skills, public speaking and, most importantly, future opportunities.