It was over the span of just three days. Three days of unnerving sessions of debate, three days of running around getting signatories to resolutions, three days of sweat and tears, or laughs and endless mugs of coffee. They were perhaps the longest three days of our lives, beginning with our team’s arrival in Hyderabad-Deccan, India, for the Harvard Model United Nations conference - and ending in victory for us.
Hosted by students from Harvard University, Harvard Model United Nations India 2012 was held last month. A simulation of the United Nations, the conference consisted of a number of committees, ranging from General Assembly committees such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Trade Organisation (WTO), Disarmament and International Security Committee (DISEC), and the Special Political and Decolonisation Committee (SPECPOL), to Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Committees like the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), to specialised agencies such as the Supreme Defense Council of Iran. Each committee had a member of our team in it, representing either the country of Belgium, Oman, or, in the case of specialised agencies, a historical figure. Our 12 member delegation comprised of Haadia Amjad, Aliyah Sahqani, Amar Zaidi, Aiman Rizvi, Umme Hani Imani, Manzar Akbar, Irtaza Ali, Navaera Sulaiman, Natalie Kotwal, Salaar Shaikh, Areeb Mahamadi and I. Following the opening ceremony on the 16th of August, formal debate started on the 17th, beginning with long three and four hour committee sessions with a one hour lunch break in between. Lunch breaks were never really lunch breaks; they were taken up either discussing the drafting of resolutions with other delegates from our committees, or venting to our teammates, about the frustrations we encountered during our long sessions of debate.
At the end of each day of committee sessions was a social event - a delegate dance one night, India Night another. And every night, Hyderabad International Convention Centre would be alive with delegates in costumes or traditional Indian attire. By day, those same delegates clad in suits, would greet us like old friends, in committee. The experience was exceptional (as was the food). Social events would be a time to unwind, interact with other delegates on a first name basis as opposed to a Country basis. But at the back of everyone’s minds lurked the events of earlier that day, and the possible consequences in store tomorrow.
Back in our hotel rooms, we typed out working papers, draft resolutions, researched; the end of committee session by no means meant the end of our work. Mornings were hasty, afternoons tedious, and nights - just as tedious. By the third day of committee session, each of us was tensed, some at their breaking point. All the long hour of practice, the long committee sessions, the tiring flights from Karachi to Mumbai to Hyderabad; the bus ride from the airport to the Novotel and Hyderabad International Convention Centre - it all came down to this. The closing ceremony commenced shortly after the last committee session, at the end of which we exchanged our final words with our chairs (those moderating debate in committee) and the Assistant Directors of our committees. We said our ‘goodbyes’ and ‘good lucks’ to the delegates we spent the last three days with. Delegates from schools all over India, and from places as far as Malaysia; delegates we came to befriend over the course of the conference. And we rushed to the rest of our team members, sat in a row, holding hands. And the announcements began. The Secretary General made his speech, acknowledging the efforts of the secretariat, the delegates and all those who helped make the conference a success. He acknowledged the schools from Pakistan, and shortly afterwards, awards from each committee were announced. With every country uttered, we grew tense, tightening our grips on the hands we were holding... up until one of our teammates’ awards were announced - and we all rose in a frenzy of applause. There were twelve of us - and ten such frenzied rounds of applause came from our corner of the hall.
The time came for the announcement of best delegation awards. The award for the best small delegation went to Lahore Grammar School, Defense, and the five schools from Pakistan were brimming with pride. But the tension still hadn’t snapped. We anxiously waited for the Best Large Delegation award to be announced - and at last, the announcement was made. And Karachi Grammar School won the title.
In the midst of the ecstasy we never forgot those to whom we were more than grateful to. Our headmistress, who accompanied us there and back, looking after us, making sure we didn’t crack under pressure. Our parents on the other side of the border who had already spread the word of our victory. Our teachers, our friends and most of all - each other. Had it not been for the close knit family we were, victory may not have been possible.
Apart from the experiences we shared as a team, each of us had individual experiences which shaped the way we perceived things. Here is what some of our team members had to say about the conference:
Navaera Sulaiman (UNICEF): It was amazing how friendly everyone was. There wasn’t even an instance of prejudice in my committee and I’m really glad that I was able to create a good impression about Pakistan there. It is occasions like these that give hope for better relations between the two countries in the future.
Natalie Kotwal (WTO): Attending HMUN India was an unforgettable experience. I got to meet new people from all over Asia and learn so much from the conference
Areeb Mahamadi (Exiled Revolutionaries): I remember someone in my committee saying, “He should be exiled from the exiled revolutionaries”. In fact the most exciting part for me was when the whole committee turned against me. The Pope had died and first one speech accused me of assassinating him, then another. It was so much fun to have everyone against you and then get up and bash them all at once. But one of the feelings I distinctly remember most is coming out of committee after a hard day and craving familiar faces. And then finding your team and being able to vent and cry with them. It was like finding a small sanctuary in an alien world.
Irtaza Ali (DISEC): I went there with the intention of winning. I left knowing that I had not won but the team did. That brought me the ultimate satisfaction. If you can learn to value your team more than yourself, you will always succeed.
Salaar Shaikh (SPECPOL): I did not know what to expect at HMUN India. It was my first time across the border and my first MUN on such a massive scale. However, I learnt that Indians were not dissimilar to us at all - we could mix and converse with them as easily as we could with Pakistanis. It brings the logic of our many standoffs on the political scale into question. Two nations with so many similarities should capitalise on those things rather than drive their people further apart. As far as our experience goes, I can comfortably say that I would not exchange my week in Hyderabad for anything in the world. From rubbing shoulders with some of the most astute young minds of the day, to getting to know all my friends a little better and finally to winning that coveted team prize, HMUN India was an incredible adventure. All the blood, sweat and tears were worth it.
Every part of the trip was an experience we took home so much from. Learning and exposure to new ideas were not confined to committee rooms or debate topics. Each of us learned from the people we interacted with in committee and outside committee. Hyderabad, to say the least, was a beautiful city. The Indians turned out to be some of the friendliest and most hospitable people we had ever come across. All foolish notions of being received with reservation and hostility were erased from our minds the moment we arrived. After the initial three days of debate, we toured the city - historical monuments, forts and bazaars. We spent what was perhaps the most memorable Eid of our lives together. But the highlight of the trip was that moment. That moment, where emotions went from anxiety to disbelief to rapture within minutes. That moment when we felt we did not just made ourselves, not just each other, not just our parents or our teachers, but all of Pakistan proud. It felt surreal walking up onto the stage to claim the award we won, for the conference we had little hope of winning.
But in all honesty, we came to the consensus that we won in more ways than one. We redefined team unity as we knew it - through the ups, the downs, and the media attention upon our arrival back home. We befriended the citizens of the very country we initially supposed would receive us with hostility. We had a newfound confidence in ourselves as a team. We opened ourselves up to new ideas, and took in more than we thought ourselves capable of. We secured two Best Delegate awards, four Outstanding Delegate awards and four Honourable Mentions over 800 delegates, representing over 160 countries.
And it all came down to that moment, that stage, that announcement, that victory that large Pakistani flag we held, and the even larger achievement we stunned ourselves with.