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Red Hook students share ideas, perspectives at International Model UN Conference

Members of Red Hook High School's Model UN pose together.Leopold Pflaum doesn’t believe in the continued use of coal as an energy source.

But, when the Red Hook High School sophomore stood up to be heard in a room of a couple hundred students from around the world, he wasn’t speaking for himself. He was speaking for Bosnia-Herzegovina. And if Bosnia-Herzegovina was going to adopt more environmentally friendly energy policies, it was going to need help.

“Bosnia’s a coal-producing country,” Pflaum explained. “I was advocating for other people paying for Bosnia, which is a relatively poor country.”

Pflaum was among 11 Red Hook students who took part in the International Model United Nations Conference in New York City March 13-16.

The Red Hook delegation was among roughly 2,300 students, about half of whom are from outside the U.S., who came together to discuss resolutions to global issues such as human rights, affordable housing, labor standards, transportation infrastructure and, yes, environmental awareness.

The students worked in committees to debate and come to agreements on each issue, with the Red Hook students spread among them. In total, the students spent roughly 18 hours in their committees, where they worked closely with students from areas ranging from Italy and Sweden to China and Ethiopia.

“It was just fascinating, meeting people from around the world, learning how they live,” Pflaum said, noting students from different cultures brought a variety of styles and perspectives to the discussions. “Even though you were supposed to represent your (assigned) country, there were just inherently different views of the world for people from Asia, Africa.”

In the preceding months, the Red Hook Model UN group researched their assigned country of Bosnia-Herzegovina and wrote a “country paper” in which they detailed its history, culture, infrastructure and geography. They then chose on which committee they would want to serve in New York City and each wrote position papers on those subjects.

Club adviser and social studies teacher William Decker noted students had to know their facts entering each committee meeting. While they could bring laptops, they could only use them to write resolutions.

On the second day of the trip, the students visited the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Permanent Mission and spoke with Ljilja Grgic-Stojanovic, the assistant secretary to the ambassador. That, Decker said, offered three-dimensional perspective.

“She said when she was 16 and 17 she spent those two years in a basement, under fire, during the Balkan wars,” Decker said. “They asked really good questions on specifics about her nation and how we could best represent the goals of Bosnia, and brought it back to the committee.”

Pflaum said he gained a greater understanding of how the conflicts of 30 years ago continue to impact the country.

“They’ve tried their best to recover, but trying to balance environmental issues and rebuilding Bosnia is very difficult, if not impossible,” he said.

After the meetings were over, each committee wrote resolutions to send to the UN. Decker said they “came up with some really good ideas,” noting Red Hook students were sponsors of three resolutions and sponsored amendments for the other two.

“The kids spoke up,” he said. “It can be intimidating. In some committees there are 300 people in the room.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker were the keynote speakers opening and closing the conference, respectively. The four-day event ended with a dance for the students.

Decker said taking part in Model UN encourages students to “look at the world through the lens of a different cultural group,” in addition to teaching public speaking and social skills.

“For a lot of these kids it’s just being worldly,” he said. “These are the things they’re going to remember after high school.”