Being invited to an international Model United Nations conference in the Netherlands must be quite an honor. But there's something that makes the trip even more special for the New Canaan High School Model U.N. Club.
For the second year in a row, New Canaan was the only public school in the United States invited to the event, which will take place at The Hague from Jan. 26 to 31.
Paul Phillips, the club's faculty adviser, said there are more than 200 schools from more than 100 different countries attending the conference next week, and only six schools are from the U.S. The other five are private prep schools.
The Hague International Model United Nations aims "to seek, through discussion, negotiation and debate, solutions to the various problems of the world," according to the foundation's website. The annual conference is a five-day simulation of the U.N. for about 3,500 secondary school students and teachers from all over the world. Topics to be discussed include human rights, disarmament, economic development, protection of the environment, the problems of youth and refugees, among others.
"The young delegates, in seeking solutions to these problems, can learn to break away from narrow, national self-interest and develop true international cooperation," according to the foundation's website.
Phillips is taking 11 students -- nine seniors and two juniors -- out of the 107 active members the club has this year. Club members meet every week to prepare for upcoming conferences and plan activities involving the wider high school, local and global communities, Phillips said. In 2013, Best Delegate, a Model U.N. consulting company, ranked the NCHS the best high school Model U.N. program in New England.
Andrew Penchuk, who attended last year's event in The Hague, said the conference was one of the best experiences of his life.
"It's a great experience. I met people from everywhere," Penchuk, now a senior, said. "I'm really sad I can't go back."
The 11 NCHS students who are going never have been there before, but they have been in the club for a long time, Phillips said.
While 11 members will be at The Hague, about 24 other members will attend a Model U.N. conference at Yale University Jan. 23 to 26, and 25 other members will be attending another conference at Harvard University Jan. 30 to Feb. 2
"We're going to have 60 kids out of the building at the same time," Phillips said.
Though the club is the only public school in America joining the conference, none of them will be there to discuss U.S. issues. Nine students will represent the interests of Papua New Guinea. Phillips said all participants of The Hague conference are assigned to a country other than their own so they can get out of their comfort zone and learn about another nation's current issues.
"It's really important to step out of the American viewpoint and represent the interests of another country," Phillips said.
One student will be among 19 judges at a simulated International Court of Justice, where he'll examine two legal disputes between member nations -- Bolivia vs. Chile and Costa Rica vs. Nicaragua.
Club members are funding their own trip. The group also runs fundraising activities throughout the year. Earlier this month, the New Canaan U.N. Committee donated $1,000 to the club to defray some of its costs. Shekaiba Wakili-Bennett, co-chairman of the New Canaan U.N. Committee, said the organization has been working closely with the NCHS Model U.N. students in recent years.
"No student should be left out of such an event due to a of lack of funds," she said. "Helping the world starts with helping people in need in our community."
Besides the conference, students also will have time for some sightseeing and museum visits. Phillips and his wife have lived in the Netherlands, and they'll guide the students around The Hague and Amsterdam.
The Hague, which is known as the City of Peace and Justice, is the home of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. The Hague is also the seat of the Dutch government and several national and European Union bodies and the residence of the Dutch royal family.
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