Enabling and Empowering a Generation
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage Ceylon Today Features
Gulzar Ahmed was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka but grew up in the State of Kuwait until he turned 18 years of age. After being educated in Kuwait for most of his life, his family relocated to Sri Lanka, where Gulzar attended Lyceum International School, Gampaha to complete his A/Ls.
Today, he is a coach for the Model United Nations (MUN), a role he has been performing for almost a decade now.
A few years ago, together with his sister and best friend, the trio initiated The International Model United Nations (TIMUN), one of the country’s most successful MUNs.
Besides a passion for public speaking, Gulzar also has a passion for art and poetry. When he’s not busy with work related to TIMUN, Gulzar spends his time drawing sketches of people on Instagram and sharing it with them.
Ceylon Today reached out to Gulzar to better understand what an MUN is and how it can help you in your life’s journey.
What’s an MUN?
“An MUN in a nutshell, is a simulation of the United Nations, and hence the name, Model United Nations,” he explained. By participating in an MUN, participants from countries across the globe roleplay as ‘delegates’ and participate in proceedings like that of a modern day United Nations conference, discussing and passing mock resolutions on various problems the world faces today.
“The value of MUN cannot be easily penned down to a few words, but in general, it provides students with skills and knowledge that your average curriculum in school would never provide. You become a well-versed global, knowledgeable citizen,” Gulzar opines.
Taking his first step
Although there are certain MUNs operating within the country at the moment, it is still a concept that is only beginning to gain traction among our youth. For Gulzar however, his introduction into the world of MUN happened back in 2009.
“I got to know it through a few of my colleagues from Kuwait, but actively engaged only from 2011 onwards. I was forced to attend a conference by my then Effective Speech Coach, Milinda Fernando from Lyceum International School, Gampaha. If it weren’t for him, today there won’t be a TIMUN. He had a major role to play in my journey. I think he saw a spark and fuelled me to bring out the best to the world.”
Having gained experience of his own in the world of MUN, he shares what inspired him to establish TIMUN.
In the current context, Gulzar believes that “MUNs have sadly moved from being an epicentre of knowledge sharing, negotiating and discussing global matters to nothing more than a fancy social gathering, over time.”
The turning point for the trio, he recalled, was in 2016 when they were coaching students for MUN. “We trained and sent around 50 delegates over a period of four months to a local conference, and none of them were given an opportunity to speak during the course of the first two days. It was then when I started to clearly see the atmosphere has changed. The quality of the overall programme wasn’t all that good either.”
With this aim of providing every delegate with a personalised experience, where they would feel motivated to take centre stage, and would be given adequate limelight, they cofounded TIMUN, and have been successfully operating for five years now.
Why is it important?
“Students in the MUN arena show great skills in leadership, diplomacy, speech and sound knowledge. It is a balance of these four core areas that we focus on at TIMUN. But in general, a MUNer will showcase these four skills mastered over the course of four to five years in the arena,” Gulzar explained.
Not only that, participating in MUNs, he notes, also help develop skills in problem solving, negotiating, conflict resolution and cooperation; all important life skills that are essential in a workplace environment. Taking part in an MUN helps students practice these aspects and improve their capabilities.
Getting schools involved
Seeing the value that participating in an MUN conference could bring to a student, TIMUN has reached out to many schools in their five short years. Although TIMUN has had a tremendous rate of growth, reception from schools has been rather lacklustre in Gulzar’s opinion.
“In our experience, reception was very negative in the first two years. Despite inviting 80 schools, only two showed up. I would say anyone else would have given up at that point, but we were persistent with our conference and wanted to keep going, since the feedback from the two schools that did participate were very positive.”
In the recent past however, he notes, the reception has gotten better through word-of-mouth recommendations from former delegates and teachers alike, but that is not to say they didn’t face hardships even after making a name for themselves. “We did face a lot of challenges because of who we are and where we come from,” Gulzar suggests that due to their religious identity that some schools were and still are reluctant to take part. “But overall, it is getting better with time and we are positive over the course of the next couple of years things will get even better,” he optimistically envisions.
Beyond the conference room
Wanting their work to go beyond just the conference room, TIMUN aims to make an actual impact on its participants’ lives and in society as a whole.
“Ever since 2019, we decided to engage all our students in a social impact programme as part of our conference. And hence our three-day conference became a four-day event. The first two days, is for them to discuss matters concerning a particular issue and on the third day, they go out into the field to know how things operate on a grassroot level. There, they gain an understanding of the impact of what they previously discussed. And finally, on the fourth day, they reflect on their actions and fine-tune their solutions to make them more realistic.”
TIMUN has an ongoing partnership with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka as its official social impact partner. Here all TIMUN participants engage the in advocacy and volunteering components of youth engagement.
Much more to come
As for future plans, Gulzar has a lot of big plans in store for TIMUN, with a 2021 conference already in the works, scheduled to be held in Dubai. “The sixth instalment of TIMUN is definitely going to be adventurous to both us organisers and delegates alike,” he says. While the concept of a Model United Nations is still in its infancy in the country, with limited exposure, it is true that one’s participation can help develop a plethora of skills that could transform one to become a more talented individual, and to succeed in whatever career path you may take
(Pix courtesy Shadow Pixels)