Validus Preparatory Academy sent students to a Model U.N. conference in Berlin, Germany, and they came back enlightened about German culture and feeling empowered.
Six young people from the school were guests of the German John F. Kennedy High School at the Berlin Model United Nations, which focused on the theme ‘Combating Illicit Trade: A Civic Responsibility.’ The intercontinental trip to the Model U.N., which took place from Wednesday, November 17 to Saturday, November 20, was thanks to the donation of an anonymous donor who funded the European adventure.
The students who visited the Berlin Model United Nations were seniors Shatai Melvin, Jay Arzu, Jasmine Benitez, and Faatima Johnson, and sophomores Destiny Daley and Chastity Hillary. They were chaperoned on the trip by Validus teacher Bryan Wu and social worker Andrea Hines. They stayed with German families, and aside from discussing important international issues at the model U.N., also had time to tour Berlin.
“The goal is to have the students not only experience another culture, but also come up with solutions to real problems that are confronting their generation,” Wu said. “It should also open their eyes to the hundreds of students from different schools, and to realize that despite differences, there are more similarities.”
At the model U.N., the Validus students represented the country of Costa Rica, and sat on committees that dealt with issues such human rights, politics, disarmament, and environmental issues. The two sophomores participated in a Junior Assembly. As in the real U.N., the different committees passed resolutions in their particular area of world affairs. The resolutions students from Validus passed dealt with issues such as “economic colonialism” in African nations, stopping illicit trade of endangered species of animals and timber, fighting human trafficking bysecuring international borders, and securing borders so that nuclear weapons may not be easily transported from one country to the another.
“I took away from it a need for unity,” Arzu said. “Any group can come together and make a cohesive whole. I feel like the whole experience was beneficial because it made us find things that we had in common to work together, instead of finding differences that just make us angry.”
The young people got to live with German families during the Model U.N. and the days preceding it, including German diplomats and lawyers. The students got a taste of German life and noticed many differences from their lives in the Bronx, they said. This included everything from Berlin being a more modern city with many glass buildings to there being an honor system instead of turnstiles on the Berlin mass transit rail system. According to Hines, the most important thing the students took away from the experience should be a sense of empowerment.
“They came away learning that the voices of students are just as powerful as any other voices,” Hines said. “They don’t have to wait for change, but can be the voices of change.”