Opening Speech at Nexus International School’s Model UN
Thank you for your invitation to speak here today.
I want to congratulate the organizers for the thought provoking theme – embracing diversity, calling for change…very appropriate for a model UN group.
The UN is an organization whose very existence, whose very inception comes from that simple, yet complicated concept – embracing diversity and calling for change.
The United Nations was founded out of the discord of war… when nation states made a commitment to peace, international cooperation and security. Today, the UN is made up of more than 190 member states, every one of them sharing the same universal declaration of human rights – which at its heart embraces diversity – recognizing it as essential to the protection of human rights, justice, social progress and better standards of life.
Of course diversity and change challenge the status quo. And that can be threatening, for some. Think about the social, political and liberation movements we've seen, over the years.
The abolitionist movement – demanding an end to slavery.
Movements for civil rights, human rights. women's rights, child rights.
Think of the anti-apartheid movement. The environmental movement.
AND of the effort. The grit. The sacrifice. The time. The determination it's taken, for ideas to take root.
If I say the name Malala…you'll know who and what I'm talking about, right?
Before we even heard of her, Malala was already standing up for her right to an education and was the voice of education for girls in Pakistan.
Her father ran a school for girls and Malala was one of his brightest and most outspoken students.
But the idea of educating girls was so threatening to some in Malala's hometown in the Swat Valley – that on October 9th last year, a gunman boarded her school bus and shot her and two other girls, to teach them a different kind of lesson.
At age 15, in the most horrifying of circumstances, Malala became an icon for girls education around the world.
Malala's story is familiar to most of us now.
Today, she is back where she wants to be – in school although not yet in Pakistan.
Still championing the rights of girls, still a vocal advocate for education … and talking about running for office someday.
Earlier this year, she was named one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World and is the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Embracing diversity. Calling for change. … Challenging the status quo. It often takes courage. Patience. And perseverance too.
Real change, fundamental change often takes a long time, but sometimes, it can happen surprisingly fast.
Let me give you a UNICEF example.
Three years ago, UNICEF launched a campaign called It's About Ability in Montenegro.
**do you know where that is?? it's a small country in Europe, on the Adriatic – it used to be part of Yugoslavia.
Bear with me, you'll understand why I'm talking about Montenegro in a minute.
The campaign was launched in response to coverage in media and on social media – where people were quoted making some really disturbing and offensive comments, expressing deeply held prejudices, against people with disabilities. In the report, these people were adamant they didn't want children with disabilities to be part of their community. And they especially didn't want them anywhere close to their own kids or in their schools.
UNICEF initiated a campaign, with the government, civil society organizations, the media, families and of course children with disabilities – essentially inviting people to embrace diversity, and calling for change.
Within a year and a half – opinions had changed significantly.
How? Because the campaign managed to get people to see and know the children – not their disabilities.
I mention this story for 2 reasons. 1) because changing ideas that are deeply entrenched in a year and a half…that's fast. So – its proof it can be done. And sometimes, quickly.
2) because UNICEF is doing similar work now, globally. Including here in Malaysia.
This year, the theme of UNICEF's flagship publication, the State of the World's Children, is on the issue of Children with Disabilities.
It is a reminder that a child is not disabled because they cannot walk, see or hear.
A child is disabled by a society that excludes them.
So our report this year brings attention to OUR blind spot – as we remind ourselves to see the child first – not the disability.
Embracing Diversity -- When everyone is involved and included, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual preference, social class -- when diversity is celebrated and upheld, perspectives change and societies can…and DO…transform.
I'd like to end with this thought, as you prepare to start your Model UN events.
Embracing diversity is NOT just about talking to people who agree with you.
It's also about – it's especially about -- talking to people who don't share your beliefs. And its about LISTENING to what they have to say with an open mind and heart.
So as I conclude, I have one request of you. I invite you to please, LISTEN…listen to the diversity of opinions and thoughts, as you debate and discuss over the next two days here, and as you leave to make your mark on the world.