Amrit Toor is a fourth-year History Honours student at UBC. With a focus on Canadian feminism in the twentieth century, Amrit is writing his honours thesis on feminist movements at UBC in the 1970s. His extracurricular involvement on campus includes serving as Vice-President External of the Model United Nations Student Association (MUNSA), second term as Co-President of Oxfam UBC, and Editor-in-Chief of the Atlas Undergraduate Journal of World History. Amrit has volunteered for numerous organizations locally, including Surrey Food Bank, Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières. Verna Yam (in bold) interviewed Amrit on behalf of UNAC-V.
How did you learn about MUN and start getting involved?
In high school, one of my teachers asked me if I could host and chair a MUN conference because he had heard about my background in public speaking. I had no idea what he meant by that – I had never heard about MUN before, I had never been a delegate before; so I got a very quick run through of MUN procedure and what it was all about before I was just dropped in to chair two conferences.
Did you eventually try being a delegate?
Once I entered university, I heard about MUNSA, the MUN club at UBC, and started delegating. I got into conversing with people about international issues and used my past experiences with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to inform the arguments I was making. That’s where my interest in being a delegate and involved in MUN stems from – my background in NGO work.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from MUN?
The most valuable thing that I’ve learned is an understanding of the very real and tangible aspect of the discussion we have in MUN. MUN provides this unique opportunity in which students can become directly engaged in international issues, without necessarily being an expert or having a job that would enable them to go directly into those fields.
Furthermore, it’s a really good awareness opportunity. For those working with NGOs, it’s an opportunity to promote what certain movements there are in the world. It’s also a great chance to learn other people’s perspectives on the failures and successes of the international community, and to develop a more comprehensive understanding of what’s really happening out there.
What other knowledge, lessons, or skills did you learn from MUN?
Diplomacy is a huge skill that I’ve learned from MUN. It’s one thing to go up on a stage and give a speech but it’s a very different thing to be directly engaged with someone and say, “We know we have very different views, but can we come to some form of compromise on this issue?” I think that kind of diplomatic nature in MUN is really something that extends to life more generally. There’s never going to be a situation where everyone just happens to agree, so MUN provides that opportunity to learn how to mediate between very opposing views and find commonality between some of the most different opinions.
Aside from MUN, what role does the UN play in your life?
The research done by the UN is the biggest UN-aspect in my life. For example, when I’m looking at what Oxfam is doing out in the world, I may look at statistics created by UN Women or reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization. Obviously, I study history, but in my spare time I enjoy looking at these kinds of things. The UN provides that expert opinion on some really complicated issues but in a way that is fairly accessible to the general public.
What’s something cool that you learned about the UN?
The difference between what is being talked about by the news and what actually happens in the UN when trying to create compromise and international agreement. If you’re looking at it solely from news sources, it seems like there are huge differences in opinion, especially on things such as women’s rights. However, you see most countries signing on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW). I think that this is the most interesting thing I’ve learned – the fact that a lot of the real work that gets done in diplomacy. That a lot of the real work that is done in the UN is not these extreme opinions, but rather there are people are trying to find tangible solutions to these issues.
What’s one thing about the UN that you think fellow students or youth should know?
I feel that the number of initiatives of the UN is underplayed a lot. I will definitely admit that there are failings of the UN, that it is definitely slow on things, and it hasn’t addressed things adequately. However, the extent of the UN’s impact on the world, its on-the-ground aid and simply being there to host important discussions makes it one of the most important organizations in the world.
Why do you think that it’s important for youth to learn about the UN?
It’s important because it’s probably one of the most unique organizations to ever exist. It brings together so many countries, and while not everyone is represented to the same extent, once you have about 152 members you’re able to say that vast majority of the world population is represented. That’s something very, very unique.
Creating international consensus is a convoluted process, but the UN can achieve this. So, understanding that ability of the UN is important: that the UN is not an archaic organization. It’s an organization that’s very real and has very tangible effects.