There is no black-and-white solution to anything

news: There is no black-and-white solution to anything

THE CARLUCCI American International School of Lisbon’s (CAISL) Model United Nations class recently attended the 37th annual The Hague International Model United Nations conference (THIMUN) in Holland.The CAISL delegation included 16 students accompanied by teacher Peter Andrews and director Blannie Curtis.THIMUN is a five-day simulation of the United Nations for secondary school students. The object is to seek, through discussion, negotiation and debate, solutions to the various problems of the world, such as questions of human rights, protection of the environment, economic development, disarmament, youth matters, refugee problems, as well as the more critical issues of war and peace. Basically, the THIMUN’s aim is to practise tolerance and teach people to live together in peace with one another.

Written by Giovanna Kossakowski,

Grade 11 Student

For students in the Carlucci American International School of Lisbon’s Model United Nations programme (forthwith to be called CAISL and MUN respectively), a certain MUN conference holds an allure that motivates them to work like they have never worked before. This conference, The Hague International Model United Nations, known simply as THIMUN, takes place in January, and it is with feverish abandon that students research and write papers during the Christmas vacation. Indeed, the workload is such that those extreme perfectionists in the group find themselves toiling away even after the two weeks of “rest”, filling teachers’ ears with complaints that the overall expectation is too much.

But to be a good and participating delegate requires effort – this every student knows. Without a firm knowledge of the country they will be representing, debate – unless one is a skilled bluffer – is next to impossible. Thus, it is necessary to research not only the country’s stance on THIMUN topics, but the country’s entire culture.

With that in mind, I can profess this year’s culture-related research was a success. Our class was assigned Libya and one of the first things our MUN director, Mr. Andrews, did was to contact the local people’s bureau (what they call their embassy) in the hope of persuading a diplomatic officer to visit our class and offer little gems of knowledge. Such an individual wasn’t available, but we were left far from disappointed as three boxes arrived on our doorstep several days later. The bureau had given us 250 copies of The Green Book, Colonel Muammar Qaddhafi’s publication on democracy and society, along with complementary texts. They were even kind enough to forward a copy of The White Book, a smaller text that outlines Libya’s, or rather the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’s, stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

THIMUN, however, is not all about debate. It is a tradition in CAISL to leave the Friday before the event so that the delegation can spend two days in Amsterdam, touring and getting our minds off the looming monster of a conference. The culture and history implanted into our young minds throughout the weekend almost equalled everything we had learned about Libya. Chronologically, we visited the Anne Frank House, the Hermitage, the Dutch Resistance Museum, the Rijksmuseum, with a final option to explore the Van Gogh Museum right before leaving for The Hague.

We paid a visit to the Anne Frank House on Friday afternoon. With our tummies filled with falafel, we eagerly spilled into the world-renown secret annexe. Seeing the rooms the Frank family hid away from the world in for so many years was nothing if not awe-inspiring, especially when we noticed how loud our shoes were against the floor – just how did they move around during the day? The pencil marks on the wall which marked the growth of Anne and her sister Margot had a sobering effect, and seeing the actual diary, with its profoundly touching words written in Anne’s prim calligraphy, gave us something to think about.

Intolerance, hate – why do they still have a place in the 21st century, why haven’t we learned better? The point was driven home by our guide, Selwyn Eisden, a native of Curaçao who alternatively enthralled and horrified us with his tales and accompanying pictures. He helped us realise that there is no black-and-white solution to anything – there is always some grey that forces one to step back and reconsider the situation and your morals.

This too was put to the test when we took part in an interactive booth that presented two sides to a certain conflict, finally requiring you to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Heads were scratched and brows furrowed as the time to press the button ticked by – was it really discrimination to yell out against a black football player, or was it merely freedom of speech?

We were treated to Romanov regalia the next day when we went to the Hermitage Museum to see its Nicholas and Alexandra exhibition. “Oohs and aahs” abounded when we saw imperial gowns and Fabergé…well, not eggs, but vases and a miniature replication of the Czar’s crown and sceptre, fashioned out of gold, silver, platinum and diamonds.

What followed was a visit to the Dutch Resistance Museum, a most intriguing place due to it being a maze of interactive booths and displays. Our knowledgeable guides explained how the Dutch, in fear of subjecting The Hague and Amsterdam to the same abuse inflicted on Rotterdam, submitted to the Nazis and yet continued to covertly oppose their occupation.

Once again, we were treated to what is called ‘the Jewish Question’, and we saw the actual Stars of David worn at that time. Later, we were taken on a tour around that part of Amsterdam and it was with great surprise that we learned that a majority of the buildings in the area belonged to Portuguese-Israelites, including an enormous synagogue.

The extent of resistance was proven once again when we were shown a building that is now a TV studio. During the war, it housed Jewish records, all perfectly categorised and ready to be plucked by the Nazis; the Dutch broke in and tried to destroy all the evidence.

We were given a more extreme blast into the past on Sunday, when we visited the Rijksmuseum. Seeing the works of the Dutch masters is more than a little breathtaking, and the most popular pieces – those of Vermeer and Rembrandt – drew our eyes like nothing before. Several students then opted to see the more modern side to art and headed out to the Van Gogh museum, where they were duly mesmerised by the pieces housed there, such as the Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette and Gauguin’s Among the Mangoes.

Art, Anne Frank, the Orange Resistance… None of it had to do with THIMUN and Libya, and yet it helped shape our attitude towards the conference. We were shown how art can be a release, a statement against the status quo, and how one must always fight for what is right – but then, what is right anyway? What is an absolute truth? These questions were among the many we were asked. Questions come from eagerly seeking minds, and I’m proud to say that our group certainly possessed many of those!