“Nice to meet you, I’m Dan. Where’re you from?” said the guy in formal military uniform. I read his name badge “US Military Academy at West Point, Delegation of India”.

Everything about him was intimidating. I mean, he was about to become an US Army official.

“I’m from Venezuela,” I said.  Suddenly, the way he looked at me changed. It was like he was now on his guard, sizing up a foe on the battlefield. We weren’t in an armed conflict; we were about to start a Model United Nations (MUN) simulation.

That’s when I truly grasped what it meant to be a Venezuelan competing in an international MUN. It was my first time participating overseas, but the reputation of my antecessors already served me as the strongest presentation card.

“Venezuela” means something different in this competition from what we’re used to. Our country is a powerhouse when it comes to worldwide MUN competitions, and its reputation comes from a long record of conquests and awards.

This year, the reputation of Venezuelans in the international MUN circuit reached a new peak. On Sunday, both Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) and Universidad Simón Bolívar (USB) conquered the highest awards at Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN); the most competitive conference of its kind. UCAB won the Best Large Delegation award (best delegation in the conference) and Best International Delegation (given to non-US universities), and USB conquered the Outstanding Delegation award (second in the conference).

Typically, delegations from top-ranked universities like Yale, U. Chicago, Georgetown, NYU and West Point take these awards. This time, they went home empty handed. This is why the scale of the accomplishment of these Venezuelan delegations is even greater.

And this is not the first time we reach the top. Our delegations have conquered major MUN conferences around the world again and again.

Venezuelans treat MUN conferences like a bloodsport. There’s no A-for-effort here. 

But how do delegations with limited resources, from a country ravaged by its most severe economic, social and political crisis in modern history, where English is no one’s first language  beat all the top-ranked, money-flush universities from the US and the rest of the world?

The answer is simple. MUN delegations in Venezuela have exactly what the country has always needed: strong institutions. Each major delegation has more than a decade of legacy, traditions, knowledge. As years go by, every new delegation builds upon the academic and institutional foundations laid by those who participated in the past, contributing with new ideas, and reinforcing team values.

Every major university in Venezuela has several delegations competing in the local and international MUN circuits. For instance, the UCV team attending HNMUN is completely different from the UCV team attending Harvard World Model United Nations (WorldMUN), and so on. This means hundreds of students from different universities, selected by different delegations with different structures and preparation processes, attending different conferences every single year. There’s one thing in common though: they treat it like a bloodsport. There’s no A-for-effort here. They go for the purpose of winning multiple individual and collective awards. And they do.

Just imagine a soccer team excelling at different championships at the same time, but using completely different players for each of them. In stark contrast, the rest of the countries send one delegation per university, or even one delegation per country.

The first MUN took place in Venezuela in the year 2000. After that, MUN went viral.

There’s also a component of perseverance, commitment and passion. These students spend more than nine months preparing for a four day conference, studying everything from negotiation methods to the foreign policy of the country they’re going to represent, strategy, tactics, tips, tricks, of course, English.

At the same time, they have to pour sweat, blood and tears to overcome the thousands of roadblocks created by Venezuela’s troubled economy and insane bureaucracy to raise the funds for air tickets and accommodations during the conference. Just to get there is the biggest award of all. Is either to go big or go home.

But “what exactly is a MUN?”some of you may ask. Basically, a MUN is an academic simulation of the United Nations. The objective for students (from high-schools to Universities) is to play the role of delegates from different countries, attempting to solve real world issues following the policies and perspectives of the country they are assigned to represent. Yes, its all fake in the end, but everyone takes their roles as delegates with supreme seriousness.

MUNs exist in Venezuela since 1992, when a group of students from Universidad Metropolitana competed at Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN). But it wasn’t until the year 2000 when the first MUN took place in the country: the Venezuelan International Model United Nations (VIMUN) organized by Colegio Santiago de León de Caracas. It was soon followed in 2002 by the first MUN for university students: the Modelo Venezolano de Naciones Unidas (MOVENU).

Dozens of kids from the barrios have participated in local and international MUN, with a titanic track record of success.

After that it went viral, spreading to any number of high schools and universities all over the country and fueled by the early conquests in the international arena. Soon enough, every University had different delegations attending the most prestigious conferences in the MUN circuit: HNMUN, WorldMUN, National Model United Nations (NMUN), and Latin American Model United Nations (LAMUN), to mention a few.

The beauty of it is that it doesn’t matter where you come from. Figures ranging from Hollywood actor Edgar Ramírez, to political leaders like David Smolansky, and even several Caracas Chronicles contributors, have attended international and local MUNs.

But most importantly, MUNs teach you that you don’t have to come from the most privileged sectors of society to compete and succeed. Just ask the students taking part of Fundación Embajadores Comunitarios (FEC) programs.

Understanding the needs of giving back to the country what the whole MUN experience gave them, FEC was born as a project from UCAB international delegations known as UCABMUN. The goal was “to sow leadership where it is most needed”, and it was how high-school students from communities in the barrios of Antímano, La Vega, San Agustín del Sur, Petare and Chacao started their preparation in MUN methodology.

Dozens of kids from the barrios have participated in local and international MUN, with a titanic track record of success. Nowadays, several of the trainers or “Faculty Advisors” come from the very firsts cohorts of FEC, demonstrating once again the key role of institutions founded upon democratic values.

That’s the ultimate legacy of MUN in Venezuela, and the main reason behind its success. MUN conferences are not limited to teaching you how to debate, negotiate, investigate or peacefully solve conflicts. They demonstrate that by giving back to the community from what you’ve learned in simulated realities, real changes can take place in the real world.

You see, in the end this is about much more than just the awards. Our country has a real reason to celebrate: there are young people with the will and the capability to rebuild it.

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