Of the four years we’ve done the United Nations Association of Singapore (UNAS) Model United Nations (MUN) Preparatory Conference, I remember the first edition most vividly. Back in junior college my school had rejected a proposal for a similar conference, and I was stoked that UNAS expressed interest in early-2011. By the end of the year we only met a quarter of our 600-participants target, I overestimated my ability to do administrative preparations during my National Service stint, and the team was ill-prepared to handle a conference.
But all these made UNASMUN special. We started small, which has given us space to grow. From my dreadful leadership to the incredible team of students from Catholic Junior College – many of whom have returned to the conference ever since, even if they had to take leave from school events or the army – it was the beginning of the UNASMUN family. People make conferences. Oftentimes in the early years I lost sight of the fact that the event is not, and cannot, be about me as an individual. So mired was I in my own arrogance, that I had to learn how to cut down on the (unjustified) condescension, to express gratitude instead.
Four years on, there is still a lot to do. Conference proceedings can always be enhanced, and this year we – a team of less than 10 – stretched ourselves by lowering fees to $50 for a four-day event with a closing dinner.
There is more to do in the bigger picture, in Singapore, beyond the organisation of the conference. Despite their gentler learning curves (vis-à-vis debates, for instance) and varied applications in school, simulations like MUN in the country have unfortunately been dominated by a few schools. And I think that’s a shame. We’ve tried hard at UNASMUN to train delegates and teachers with the basic know-how, so that they can develop or further their own programmes, yet there is tremendous room for improvement.
Having more conferences of a certain rigour is great, but the problem persists. MUN invitations still go out to the same clubs and schools.
We’ve taken this convenience for granted, and I reckon it’s time to move out of this comfort zone. Such a ground-up endeavour will take effort: crafting training resources and making them accessible, moulding a team of trainers, reaching out to schools on a pro bono basis. It will also take time to build the community collectively. Across iterations of training syllabuses and batches of trainers we must better ourselves. Familiarity breeds contempt and complacency. After four years of hard work the UNASMUN family should take this next step.
When actor Matthew McConaughey won an Academy Award for his performance in the film “Dallas Buyers Club”, he spoke of three things he needed each day. The third was his hero, someone he chased. “Every day, every week, every month, and every year of my life, my hero’s always ten years away”, he said. “I’m never going to be my hero. I’m not going to attain that. I know I’m not. And that’s just fine with me, because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing”.
It is the same with UNASMUN. With every edition we strive to better ourselves, to expand our influence, to do the most we can with however little we have. The end is always in sight, yet never attainable, which – I believe – spurs us to greater things.