South Surrey student Gunjan Khatker brought home more than she expected from her first experience at a Canadian High Schools Model United Nations conference.
She brought home a win.
“I was expecting that it would be a good learning experience, which it was,” the Grade 9 Semiahmoo Secondary student said.
But it was “really exciting” when she learned she’d earned top marks for a position paper she researched and wrote as a delegate representing the Central African country of Cameroon.
“This is my first conference and I wasn’t expecting (to win),” Gunjan said. “I was just aiming to go there and do my best.
“It was very nice because all my new friends were cheering for me.”
CAHSMUN is the largest high school conference of its kind in Western Canada, bringing teenaged participants from across North America together to collaborate with and debate against their peers on complex global matters. Students, divided into 12 committees – Gunjan’s was the African Union – participate as delegates of various nations.
In addition to increasing teens’ awareness and knowledge of international affairs, the conference offers students an opportunity to practise their public speaking and negotiation skills, and be inspired by those working in the field.
This year, guest speakers included University of B.C.’s Dr. Shafik Dharamsi, whose work was the subject of the television documentary, The Global Villagers; and Wenyan Yang, who is the UN’s senior social affairs officer in the department of economic and social affairs.
Gunjan, 15, learned of the opportunity to attend through other members of her school’s Model UN club. The group was well-represented at the conference, she noted, with attendees including Chanakya Upmanu, Margareta Dovgal, Angus McWalter, Beliz Akuzzu and Alice Yue. Upmanu, Dovgal and McWalter, all in Grade 12, were staff at the conference.
Gunjan is confident her interest in international issues is largely rooted in her upbringing. Born in the cantonment town of Babina, in India’s Jhansi district – her father is a retired colonel with the Indian army – she figures she lived in more than 20 cities before moving with her parents to South Surrey 2½ years ago.
In addition to giving her insights to different people and cultures, the transient lifestyle gave her a sense of the world’s interconnectedness, she said. Issues happening thousands of miles away are often the subject of family dinner conversations.
“Politics is always on the table,” her mom, Jaslien, said.
Gunjan said her winning position paper took a month of research. She had to write on the African Union’s mission in Sudan and the exploitation of African countries by multinational companies, and offer solutions.
For the Sudan mission – dealing with conflicts between rebel groups and the Sudanese government – she proposed more non-governmental groups be deployed to the region to keep a closer watch on the government. Regarding the exploitation, she submitted that all multinational companies investing in Africa be taxed, “so all the wealth can’t be drained… so Africa’s own citizens have at least enough to survive.”
Jaslien said news of her daughter’s award filled her with pride.
“I told her it’s your first time, just go for the experience,” she said.
“I couldn’t believe (she won). I literally was in tears.”
For Gunjan, it has “absolutely” motivated her to do more. Exactly what that will translate to career-wise remains to be seen. She plans to pursue a university degree in science or math, “and then I just want to have a good life,” she said.