TWELVE high school pupils have just returned from a life-changing experience. They represented South Africa at an international debating conference at the UN.
They are Western Cape's Zahraa Samaai and Maida Shivhuri from De Kuilen High School, and Cheval Mangaliso and Shanice van Wyk from Ravensmead Secondary School.
The others are Peet van Staden of Penryn College in Mpumalanga, Carissa Naidoo of Lehlabile High School in Mpumalanga, Philile Makhanya of Reunion Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal, Prudence Britz of Northern Cape High School in Northern Cape, Moleboheng Tsomole of Kgola Thuto Secondary School in Free State, Tshenolo Maape of Golview Combined School in North West, Siphesihle Mahajana of Merrifield College in Eastern Cape and Kgothatso Mampa of Pepps High School in Limpopo.
The pupils excelled in the South African Model United Nations National Conference competition held in Cape Town and on Robben Island in October 2009. The debate was held at the UN General Assembly in New York this month.
The competition is sponsored by the MTN Foundation to the tune of R11117624 over three years from May 2009.
"Our mission is to be a leader in 'connecting communities for self-reliance', and the competition enables us to connect resourced and under-resourced pupils from all corners of our country with the hope of serving humanity with humility," MTN Foundation head Eunice Maluleke said this week.
Workshops teach tolerance and peace and further the UN' s principles and values. These include human dignity, equality and equity.
It is organised by non-profit-making organisation Education Africa and facilitated by Munsa, a youthful public speaking education and training services organisation.
Mampa said: "This was a great experience that every youth in the country must strive for ."
Makhanya said: "The programme has given me confidence and boosted my self-esteem. I can now deliver a speech in front of a huge audience with poise."
Naidoo said: "Two weeks ago I left with delegates and today I came back with family. This is friendship I would like to sustain."
The debates encourage excellence in communication skills development such as the written preparation of arguments, oral presentations, negotiating skills, arriving at working compromises and ambassadorial skills.
The South African Model UN was first held in 1995 as part of the UN's 50th anniversary celebrations. After the conference, delegates accompanied former president Nelson Mandela to New York for the celebrations.
In 1998, The South African Model UN (formerly known as The Model United Nations General Assembly Conference for South African High Schools) was revived by Education Africa and the UN under the direction of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
It now plays host to more than 500 local schools.
lSowetan's nation-building father Aggrey Klaaste was inaugural chairman of Education Africa.
He was succeeded by businesswoman Angie Makwetla. Sowetan's nation building manager Victor Mecoamere is among Education Africa's trustees.