Public speaking was never on my list of strengths. It was petrifying to be in the limelight with everyone’s attention focused on me.
I prefer observing over speaking. I feel safe that way.
Still, I walked toward the podium, putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to look at the crowd of strangers that were brought together by the community of the Model United Nations.
“We yield the floor to the delegate.”
All heads turned around to face me. That was my cue. I was thousands of miles away from home.
It was my first experience standing in front of hundreds of people. I was scared. My usual shyness was amplified. The moment I stepped onto that stage, however, I convinced myself that I had not come this far for nothing.
I knew had a purpose to achieve.
My task was to demonstrate that it is our responsibility as global citizens to give refugees access to quality education.
Despite being nervous, I was firm in my conviction that all human beings should enjoy fundamental rights, including education and freedom from discrimination. Children should not be stifled but rather given a chance to fully realize their potential — just as I had.
When my speech began and the words finally started flowing out, I let go of the fear and pictured the faces of my students — the students I had worked with every Saturday for the past two years.
My school ran an educational program called “Saturday School” for students from occupied regions in the Eastern European country of Georgia, who were living in temporary settlements in the capital, Tbilisi. They were always appreciative of the opportunities they were given — even if those opportunities were scarce.
Still, the process wasn’t easy. At first, they would look at me with skepticism, as if asking, “What will someone our age possibly teach us?” Gradually, we reached a mutual level of trust. We were able to learn from each other.
Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t change the fact that my students, like many other refugees across the globe, were denied quality education. The idea of improving this situation was central to the resolution my committee proposed in Model U.N. meetings.
In our resolution, we urged the Model U.N. to cooperate with the Ministries of Education in order to create the optimal environment for learning by providing prefabricated classrooms and covering basic needs such as daily meals and winter heating. We also suggested that programs check the qualifications of teachers and the efficiency of the curriculum. We urged all member state governments to make necessary changes in their regulations and guidelines regarding school tuition fees for refugees.
My fears were realized when the committee leader informed me that I was chosen to give the last speech. I practiced over and over before the assembly. I fit everything possible into the allotted two minutes. I took control and spoke with clarity. My speech’s final line was a call to action — vote in favor and uphold equal opportunities for all.
The only audible sound was silenced by the time I finished. I took a breath and looked up. Dozens of faces stared straight at me showing both smiles and intent expressions. I looked at my committee leader and saw pride in her eyes. I saw the crowd gesture in approval. The resolution passed with 48 votes in favor out of a total of 54. It was a success.
I had a momentary triumph. I was proud to win the battle with the most frightening enemy that I know — my own fear. I learned that I could take control of myself and be confident in my abilities. It was just a first step in a bigger mission, however, for fighting for people who are oppressed due to inequality and political unrest.
Mariam Aleksishvili, ’21, is an assistant sports editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]