Day 1 - Geneva Conference
We landed safely last night and the students were met by their host families at the airport. Our students had made contact already with their hosts and had brought some gifts with them; shortbread, English tea etc.
They then went off for their first night with their respective families. We all met this morning outside the United Nations General Assembly building. There were quite long queues to get inside, due to the heightened security, and there were some light snow showers which passed quite quickly as indeed did the queues. Inside the building the students were pretty wowed by the General Assembly meeting room. It is an amazing space and really lends a grand sense of occasion to the event. The opening ceremony began with speeches from the student organisers, the Head teacher from the host school in Ferney Voltaire and also from some invited dignitaries, including Her Excellency the French Ambassador to the UN and the Director of the UN Meteorological Organisation who recently played a pivotal role in December's historic COP21 climate talks in Paris. We also had a moving address from a refugee from the Syrian conflict who reduced many in the hall to tears as he recalled having to leave everything behind in his homeland to seek asylum in France. He also spoke movingly about the need for reconciliation and forgiveness in a post-conflict Syria which he even extended to the murderers of his beloved eighteen year old daughter.
We were also treated to two breathtaking musical performances from a young student pianist who played some solo pieces by Debussy. For me the highlight was the address by two primary school pupils aged about seven who were from a local primary school affiliated with this MUN project. They spoke with such confidence, one in French and one in English, about the need to tackle climate change and they played an animated video their class had made which was absolutely stunning. They had also written a very catchy song which went with the film. Their parents must have been gushing with pride!
After the ceremony we all moved down the road to the brand new World Meteorological Organisation building. Here we all had lunch in the rooftop cafeteria with amazing views over Lake Geneva. Afterwards the students got down to business as they all went off to their designated committee rooms where the real work of the conference takes place. Here they have to network with delegates from other schools (from over 30 countries), they have to lobby other countries and build alliances with like-minded delegates. The various committees are discussing the refugee crisis, the conflict in Ukraine, Boko Haram in Nigeria and climate change. All the debates are in French and English with real-time translation carried out by the students themselves (including two of our girls) in their sound-proof translator booths. The day finished at 5.30 and the students went back home with their hosts for supper.