Dreaming big for human rights

Maree Skalistis is only 18, but already determined to make a difference in the world of social justice. She will have the opportunity to test herself in just that, as she represents Australia at the Model UN Conference in The Hague

At only 18 years of age, Maree Skalistis already sounds like a leader.

Passionate about social justice and human rights, Melbourne Year 12 student Maree was recently selected to represent Australia at The Hague International Model United Nations Conference, in January 2015.

But she won’t be representing only her country of birth.

Having grown up with her yiayia and pappou, always in contact with her Greek background, Maree says it was with their unreserved support that she achieved this.

Hence, in January 2015, she will also be representing her Greek culture that has contributed so greatly to the person she is today.

Risking, as she says, giving me a ‘corny’ and ‘clichéd’ answer, Maree says her idol is no one else but her grandmother.

“The person that probably most inspires me is my yiayia, how she came here from Greece and had to start her life all over, with no help from anyone, and the fact she was able to build her life from literally a backpack or a suitcase she had when she came here. And she couldn’t even speak the language – she is my greatest inspiration.”

Model United Nations (MUN) is an academic simulation of the United Nations that aims to educate participants about current events, topics in international relations, diplomacy and the United Nations agenda.

The participants role-play as diplomats representing a nation or NGO in a simulated session of a committee of the United Nations, such as the Security Council or the General Assembly.

Participants research a country, take on roles as diplomats, investigate international issues, debate, deliberate, consult, and then develop solutions to world problems.

Following the recent UN Youth Australia’s National Conference in July this year, Maree was selected to act as the Australian delegate at The 47th Hague International Model United Nations (THIMUN) Conference, alongside another 16 Australian high school students selected for their public speaking, research, teamwork and negotiation skills.

“I’d never been involved in the model UN debating until, at the beginning of this year, I applied to go to the state conference held in Victoria. During that weekend we looked at all the issues that are going on in the international community, and then we did the Model UN debating. From there we were invited to submit an application to then go to the UN National Conference, held in July.”

In the week-long National Conference, Maree participated in international relations simulations with the top students from across Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.

“I was amongst ten Victorians chosen to take part in the National Conference, that had over 100 other participants. At the end, little did we know they were actually watching every single person at that conference – that’s when they decided to select 18 delegates to represent Australia at The Hague International Model UN,” Maree tells Neos Kosmos.

For an 18-year-old passionate about social justice and human rights, Maree says the most challenging part of the National Conference was wrapping her head around some of the issues that face the world.

“What you see in the media, the issues that are going on particularly in the Middle East, and things that are going wrong with the war and the conflict, and actually having the understanding of these issues – is probably the hardest thing, because you have to understand it, in order to debate the issues and propose some solutions to them.

“So having the understanding of why the conflict arises and how we respond to it, having that background knowledge is probably the most challenging and rewarding part of the experience,” Maree explains.

In The Hague, delegates will debate resolutions on a wide range of international issues. Successful ‘mock’ UN resolutions that are passed in debate will be presented to the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.

Now in Year 12, Maree is determined to continue her education at Monash University, at its strong Human Rights faculty. She will be the first one in her family to have ever graduated from high school and the first to go to university.

“No one has a special interest in social justice and human rights in my family – it was something that I discovered at the school, through my teachers, when I got involved in my humanities classes. It just caught my attention and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

As well as attending the conference in The Hague, the Australian delegation will also take part in a three week tour of Europe, visiting important cultural, education and historical sites.

“We’ll travel through eight countries, we get to meet Australian ambassadors, get to examine Europe from – first – historical and political context, so we do a lot of learning in those three weeks.

“The final week we spend in the Netherlands, in The Hague, and that’s where we spend every single day of six days doing a series of debates, with students from across the world. We’ll meet with the representatives of non-governmental organisations, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and will debate the issues that are currently affecting the world.”

With THIMUN being the world’s largest Model United Nations Youth Conference, with over 4,000 students from 90 different countries participating, Maree says the conference is an absolute dream come true.

“I hope to see myself one day maybe working as a human rights lawyer or working in diplomacy, to address some of the massive issues that face our world. I’m also passionate about being involved with non-governmental organisations. And to be given the opportunity to go overseas and meet with their representatives is a dream come true – it’s almost like a prelude to what I want to do when I leave university.”

Living with her pensioner grandparents, the costs of the trip to Europe are impossible to cover for Maree, who despite her already busy schedule and the obligations that Year 12 carries, works casually at her local supermarket.

In order for Maree to attend The Hague conference, she will need support from the community.

“With my pappou and yiayia pensioners, them paying for it isn’t really an option, so my going to this trip is basically dependent on support from the
community. I have so far raised some funds, but not enough yet.

“I would be overjoyed to receive support from my Greek community in attending this once in a life time opportunity I am so grateful to be a part of.”

To help Maree go to The Hague to represent Australia at the Model UN Conference, you can donate to her account:

Account name: Maree L Skalistis
BSB: 013-326
Account Number: 28989 1659