By Roberto Jones, Alonso Muñoz, and Luz María Guerrero
For the first time in the history of the ASF Model United Nations, students came together for a Conscience Programme on Wednesday, March 4 to explore the social realities of Mexico City and contest their own understanding of their own privilege and responsibility. Unlike traditional Model United Nations programs, this year's board of directors aimed to create an experience that humanized the issues that the delegates would be debating, creating a broader sense of understanding and empathy that would allow for the creation of real, sustainable solutions.
The ASF MUN team worked together with 3D Education, an organization that brings together people from very diverse backgrounds who share their stories, often heartbreaking and deeply tragic, in order to create awareness of often ignored issues that have deep social, political and economic implications. 3D Education’s purpose is to raise awareness by exposing groups of students to authentic experiences and building the habits and skills necessary for 21st century citizens. ASF MUN went beyond committee doors, integrating service learning opportunities so students get to engage firsthand with the issues they're debating. The modules offered are currently aligned with 14 of the 17 objectives in the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, and sponsored and supported by Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel Peace Prize winner.
With the partnership with 3D education, delegates had access to some of the most remote and segregated sectors of Mexico City: Bordo de Xochiaca (the landfills of the metropolitan area), the Garden of Peace in Tlatelolco, a refugee center, and the Penal Oriente (a federal prison). There, we had the opportunity to listen to the invisible narratives of our own society.
The first stop of the conscience programme was an immigrant shelter, administered by a religious community and funded by various other NGOs and embassies with the purpose of providing a roof, basic health services, sustenance and legal help for those attempting to request political asylum. We were introduced to an Iraqi woman who had to flee her country fearing for her life as a result of her advocacy work with the American Embassy. Although her initial goal was to travel to the United States to meet her family, she was denied political asylum based on her nationality with disregard for her work for the stabilization of her country. In the midst of tears, she confessed that her greatest regret was leaving her mother behind, but when asked if she would change anything about her journey, she firmly replied “No. My mother might be old, but she is alive. There was no life for her or for me if I stayed in Iraq”. Like her, students met refugees from Ethiopia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela and Democratic Republic of Congo. Later, when recounting their experiences to the head of Public Relations for High School, most affirmed that the experience had humanized their perspectives on immigrations.
Others had stayed at our Upper School Library to understand what gender equality meant in the city. We heard the experiences of a former victim of human trafficking. From the age of twelve for four years she was a sex slave, unable to escape her own reality. The streets became her selling counter, and what she earned did not belong to her. With the unsettling situation with femicides in Mexico, her words resonated deep into our own consciousnesses. We saw living and breathing proof of the terrors women face today. Her journey has been heartrending, yet it is not over yet. She is now working to overcome her past by getting ready to open her own nail studio.
After a short bus ride, the group met at the landfills of the city. “I think this is the box of medicine I use”, said one of the students as she stepped over heaps of trash, realizing she might have been one of the reasons we were surrounded by this stench. The most shocking thing, however, were the myriad of houses in this location. We could see children walking about with their school uniforms waiting for their parents to take them. Hundreds of people live in the trash, earning money by collecting glass, aluminum, and any valuables that might have ended up there. They are called pepenadores, a classification for a trash scavenger. Here, an environmentalist explained what recycling implies and how even the tiniest piece of trash might end up becoming an entire neighborhood.
A group of older students and teachers had to ask for permission to enter the Penal Oriente into a section of the prison that works on rehabilitation and reinsertion for prisoners who are due out in two to three years. The leader of 3D Education, Juan Pablo Ortiz, teaches a philosophy class in this center where they explore concepts such as truth, justice, liberty, and forgiveness in order to better understand themselves and their situation as human beings in confinement. Some of these men were brave enough to share their stories with us.
Entering the facility is a bit nerve-wracking. Three checkpoints and a kilometer-long tunnel later, we sat in the prisoner’s sleeping quarters a bit stiff, but with our ears wide open. The first speaker brought up the process of becoming a prisoner: “when you arrive the police mark you by ripping your t-shirt and your pants… this is how the others know that you are new”. He then pulled out an empty water bottle and asked for its use; a student was fast to respond to the obvious. We were soon to realize that its first use is as a pillow, and by breaking it down it turns into a cup, or a plate, or a bathroom while you are locked up from 7 pm to 8 am. The second speaker talked about loyalty expanding the concept way beyond our usual ties with friends and family. He discussed loyalty to vice, to “five more minutes at a party”, for a larger sip of an alcoholic beverage, for another joint. He asked their students their ages and urged them to continue to be loyal to that behavior if they wanted to see themselves locked up like himself. Finally, the last speaker dealt with the value of life and the importance of choices. He deliberately created a metaphor for life with a short piece of string. He gave each of us a piece, symbolizing ours - with its twists and turns, its instability. He showed us his and put a lighter next to it. He explained how his decisions burnt his string, putting him in prison, burning his freedom. At the end of the day, it is up to us to decide what to do tomorrow - hopefully for the best.
The day ended with a visit to the Garden of Peace in Tlatelolco, a place not a lot of people know about due to the obscure past of the plaza next to it. The Garden was originally created to commemorate the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings by a group of doctors called Médicos Mexicanos Por La Prevención De La Guerra Nuclear. This garden also commemorates the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, the 1985 earthquake, and the prehispanic history of Tlatelolco. Cultural syncretism thrives in this place.
We had the opportunity to speak with a 24 year-old student from Universidad Ibero. It was kind of funny seeing him walk to the center of the agora. Little did we know that he had to escape the Syrian Revolution and after five years of homelessness and constant movement, he was finally able to resume his studies here in Mexico City. He explained the value of peace and showed us graphic comparisons between the streets he lived in before and after the armed conflict. He says that peace is being able to go to school, and having actual standing trees lining fully paved streets. He says that peace is being able to go to the bank, earn money, being able to start a business. Peace for him is being able to stay home, to have a home, to feel invited to that home. His experience as a Kurdish minority in Syria made it even worse as he had to be displaced twice after leaving for Iraq and then Turkey. In comparison to his hometown, Mexico.“Do not provoke!” - this is the lesson he learned from the war. In order to keep the peace we need to stop inciting violence whether it be a simple chisme or a push at a party. These acts start piling up and they might end up causing a domino effect that cannot be stopped. This is what he saw in Syria.
Perhaps the greatest lesson that students learned during the conscience program was not the magnitude of the issues that society faces, but the real human consequences that they have. ASF MUN challenged the norm of writing resolutions and forgetting that issues exist, of delivering speeches that inspire action and refusing to act, of urging people to feel and sympathize while being indifferent. Students who participate in Model United Nations usually have a tendency to care about the problems, but they rarely have the opportunity to experience them in the way they did during the program. Today, we are sure that they did, we are sure that they’re not indifferent and we’re sure that the leaders that they will surely become will be conscious, informed and ready to act.