Editor’s note: By the end of last year, preparations for the representation of Lao PDR at the National Model United Nations (NMUN) in New York in April 2019 were well underway. This event will last one week and is the largest of all simulations of the United Nations, conducted entirely by students and pupils who have a keen interest in politics.
Former volunteer Shirin Ud-Din is the Head of the Lao delegation and organises all events for their preparation as well as delegating in the General Assembly Third Committee. At the Reception of the German Ambassador to Laos in honour of the 60th anniversary of German-Lao diplomatic relations in October 2018, it was possible to informally meet high-ranking Lao officials, who subsequently opened the door to the Lao Embassy in Berlin for further talks and preparation.
On 25 January 2019 my delegation and I had the chance to visit the Lao ambassador in Germany, His Excellency Mr Phomma Boutthavong, in his embassy in Berlin. It was important for my delegation to meet a Laotian expert before our departure to clarify questions that had come up during our preparation process. Who would be more suitable than the Laotian ambassador? Fortunately, the ambassador and his staff agreed to receive us in his embassy near the Kurfuerstendamm in Berlin.
Since our meeting was supposed to take place in Berlin at 3 p.m. and I live near Stuttgart, I had to get up very early to arrive in Berlin in time. I took the ICE at 6 o’clock in the morning and arrived in Berlin around 12:30 o’clock. I checked into my hotel at Alexanderplatz and changed my clothes, using the opportunity to wear my Laotian Sinh. I thought I would get to the embassy quickly, but had not considered how big Berlin really is. Unfortunately, the embassy was at the other end of the city and it took me 45 minutes by train to get there.
At 14:15 I finally arrived in front of the embassy where I met my delegates. All of us were excited about what would happen over the next few hours – this was our very first diplomatic visit, after all. In the delegation, we appoint two delegates to each committee, such as the United Nations Development Program or the General Assembly Third Committee, and every committee had thought of specific questions to ask at this meeting. The questions had been sent to the embassy 3 weeks before so that His Exellency Mr Phomma Boutthavong would be able to prepare for this meeting. We rang the bell and were welcomed warmly by the ambassador and his staff, and then we were led to the spacious reception room. His Excellency sat down right at the front so everybody could see him.
After the official welcome the Ambassador opened the meeting with the question why we had chose to represent the Lao PDR at the National Model United Nations. I reported about my work during the AfC-PH internship and about my research for my Bachelor thesis and the connection to the country that came with it. I had been able to fire my delegation with this spirit, even if it took me a while. During our preparation up to this point I had seen my delegation become more and more interested in the country, and during the embassy visit I noticed a connection forming through the warm atmosphere. It became clear to all of us that we could make a difference with our thoughts and ideas, because they would be heard during the Model United Nations conference.
H.E. Mr Phomma Boutthavong took a lot of time to answer all our questions openly and to help our committees. It was a lively exchange between us and his staff, which also helped when it came to difficult questions. Topics discussed were climate change, health system, education and especially the inclusion of disabled people in schools and the formal sector, digitalisation and Internet, the status of a least developed country (LDC), and many more. We had not come unprepared: Two month prior to our meeting I had collected questions from every committee so that we had a substantial cross-section of topics to address.
For further help, the ambassador drew our attention to the Sustainable Development Goals, in which a country sets down its political goals in alignment with those of the United Nations, and which are to be reached by 2030. The SDGs are to serve ecological, social, and economic security.1 H.E. Mr Phomma Boutthavong had printed them out, put them in beautiful folders and gave them to us for our journey back. I realised the relevance of this document straightaway and was most grateful for this gift, as was my delegation. Topics that are covered in the SDG’s are: no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education and much more. It was a rare chance to talk about those topics with a Lao expert who also lives in Germany and is therefore able to compare the systems in both countries, i.e. the different health care systems, education systems, or economic growth. Probably his living in both worlds is also a inspiration which he can carry back and forth between the two countries. I have observed that Laos is a country that likes to look to other countries as role models on the one hand, but waits to see how well other countries implement new projects or concepts on the other hand. Only then – if a model proves sustainable – may the step be taken for similar own new ventures in their particular context.
Time flew by. After three hours of conversation all questions were answered and our hunger for knowledge was sated.
Instead of taking leave, what followed was the invitation to a traditional Laotian dinner – which I was especially happy about. We were led to a room next door where the wonderful smell of Lao food wafted into our noses. The ambassador had spared no expense or effort to offer the finest Laotian food: Of course there was sticky rice, papaya salad, beef salad, mushroom soup, and much else. This was the perfect ending to our visit at the embassy, and we were very grateful. It is not a matter of course that a groups of students is invited for a 3-hour consultation and then for dinner by the ambassador himself! During dinner we had the chance to talk to all the staff and the ambassador’s wife in a relaxed atmosphere and enjoyed a pleasant evening. Needless to say, I felt “beamed back” to Laos by this kind gesture, the great hospitality, and the delicious food. When we finally did leave, the ambassador offered further help to us for our ongoing thematic preparation, which we will be glad to take up later.
What happens next? On 13 April 2019 I fly to New York and I am already very excited about the prospect of debating with delegates from 120 countries. Until then, I will continue to work on thematic, rhetoric, and argumentation exercises because at the NMUN everyday-language is “off” – diplomatic language will be the language of the day.
Before the conference starts, there will be a self-organised visit at the Lao Permanent Mission to the United Nations as well as at the German Permanent Mission to the United Nations, which chairs the UN Security Council in April. Both visits will serve as the last input for us and will help us to reflect our preparation.
What drives me so much in participating in the NMUN is that the documentation of the NMUN is passed on to the President of the UN, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, and the hope of being actually heard is real.
Text by S. Ud-Din, editor’s notes by I. Martin
Photos by S. Ud-Din & T. Phomveha
1 Laos has one more SDG than other countries, who have 17 goals: No. 18 is the clearance of UXO, unexploded ordnance from the “Secret War”.