An Educational Summer (no failed courses required)
I was fortunate this summer; I was able to “broaden my horizons”, by which I mean I was able to attend a very interesting camp called SUNIA; seminar on the United Nations and International Affairs. Sound dull? Trust me, it wasn’t!
“Educational,” for some people, is synonymous to “boring.” But SUNIA is not, to quote the counselors, “nerd camp.” Yes there were lectures, but, in all honesty, they were more like discussion groups, as we were encouraged to voice our opinions. The guest speakers (an economist-diplomat from the UN and a Corporal from the Canadian armed forces) talked about their experience working within the UN or touring Afghanistan. While those stories were interesting, I’d be a liar if I said I remembered them clearly. So why do I say that the trip was educational? It’s all about perspective.
The real learning took place during the role playing (anyone thinking about D&D, stop it now). Through skits we acted out situations that arise all over the world: everything from the sudden murder of our country’s president and subsequent inquiry to a Security Council simulation on the last day. My personal favorite was the activity where we acted as the government of a fictitious, but believable developing country. And this is where the perspective comes into play.
While we were simply role-playing, the problem solving we had to do was challenging and thought-provoking. I can now fully appreciate how problems in society are all interconnected. For example, how can someone infected with HIV/AIDS attain medical treatment if they cannot reach the only (understaffed) clinic in the area? Another problem we faced: how can a man living in an unsanitary slum save enough money to move to the city if the money he doesn’t spend on food must be sent to support his family? Obviously, just throwing money or aid into the country isn’t the answer. Medicine or food is of no help to someone who can’t get to it because there are no proper roads. The same can be said for a job if you don’t have the education to be qualified for it.
In some ways this was all very overwhelming. Everything was tied to something else. Which problem do you tackle first? Sanitation or lack of health care staff? Low school enrollment or the non-existent roads? Who’s to decide priority? Real humanitarian workers have to ask themselves these questions all the time.
But here’s the beautiful thing about connected problems: if you solve one, you affect several others. For example, better roads make it easier for the sick to access the drugs they need. It also makes it easier for children to go to school, so that they are able to get better jobs. Maybe those better-educated kids will become health care workers, perhaps solving the understaffed clinic problem. It’s not impossible.
I’m not naïve. I know that the world has a hell of a long way to go. But by loosening one string in a knot, you loosen others as well. Deal with one problem, and you’re on your way to dealing with the others. This is what I learned this past summer; this is what SUNIA taught me. Forgive me for sounding clichéd, but it’s not something I’ll ever forget.