Sunday, January 1, 2017

A story of a bus ride, a website, and a platform


Nikin Matharaarachchi was going in a bus to Nugegoda. He was delivering something to someone. Along the way, he got a call.

The call was from a friend. It was about an upcoming MUN Conference. Those affiliated to such conferences could only be informed about them through the phone. And so, when the conversation ended, Nikin put down the phone and reflected. He wanted a central database to coordinate every conference. He was tired of having them escape the public gaze.

In short, he wanted a website.

Nikin got to work with a friend, Abdullah Zameek. Some months later, they finalised what they thought was a cohesive, comprehensive site to put in everything they needed. They had friends. Those friends helped them. As is typical of such ventures, they needed cash. They got that too.

Not that it was all easy-peasy. There were problems with the domain. The name registry wasn’t working. Until the day after they launched it, they decided to host it on a feed server. After the holidays would be over, they’d transfer it to a page server. All in all, problems were encountered, solved, and fine-tuned. Everything seemed ready. Everything was.

The site, incidentally, was a platform. A platform where everyone affiliated with MUN could register, log in, and be informed. A platform whereby they could interact with each other and, if possible, upload and download various research documents that were relevant to each and every conference that popped up throughout the year. I wasn’t in the MUN for too long at my school (I was never in any Club and Society for too long, for that matter), but within the brief time I was in it, I realised one thing: there are conferences and these need research. Well backed, well sourced. The site would provide all that.

Times have changed, however. Unlike back then, the MUN calendar today is riddled from beginning to end with conferences, far more than what they used to be. For the better I should think, since the greater their number, the more likely it is that they provide its participants some cushion, some launch pad, to come, watch, and if possible, make some waves.

So how will the site (munation.com.lk) fare with all this? It’s been there since December 14 on Facebook and Instagram, so it’s tipped to splash some colour on social media. There basically are four sections in it: “Documents” (to upload and download research material), “Groups” (to enable MUN’ers from one school to get together and discuss), “MUN Calendar” (a must-have, given the aforementioned point on how conferences and other events affiliated to the fraternity have mushroomed), and “Tips” (where pearls of wisdom will be exchanged, so as to enable new MUN’ers to be initiated). As Nikin puts it, “The website is basically modelled on Facebook, restricted to the fraternity.”

Which means, logically enough, that the first challenge for these bright, ambitious boys would be to get those same members acquainted with the setup. I tell Nikin at this point that we did see blogs and other ad-hoc sites dedicated to the fraternity come up before, but he replies that these came up as and when a Conference was around the corner, to be cast aside as soon as it was over. This site, on the other hand, will not only cater to conferences but will ensure that, even when they are over, their relevance and what was learnt (and unlearnt) from them will remain, in all likelihood for posterity.

Having known Nikin and given that he’s from my school, I can say this much: from its inception, MUN at Lyceum was always about being out there, trying to create new paths despite a manifest absence of patronage, and in the process winning respect.

The Lyceum MUN team certainly didn’t fall from the sky. When I joined about 10 years ago, I came across a set of determined seniors, determined not so much to make a name for themselves as to ensure that the school and the country were put out there, on the MUN map. Needless to say, it caught on, took in new members, and created waves. At the Ninth Session of the SLMUN held this year, where Nikin and Abdullah were very much present in the Lyceum delegation, they managed to clinch awards in certain categories, including the Model UN Crisis and Foreign Policy Statement.

Not surprisingly, the delegation compelled the following comment from intca.org: “LISN really surprised me when they wore Top Hats on the first day to represent their main delegation – UK – and then wore a Black and Red theme for the final day. It showcased that they were functioning as a real team with a strong bond. This might have seemed obnoxious to some, but for young delegates in a team it creates a sense of identity and a new found confidence that flows from this identity. It might have explained how their delegation managed such a strong performance in all committees; there is nothing like young people motivated to prove the worth behind their identity, whether it be an army or a MUN delegation.”

Need I say anything more?

There are, of course, people behind all this. In particular, teachers. Nikin rattles off two names in this regard: Mr Chamara and Ms Chandanie, teachers in charge of the Lyceum MUN Society. They were not only there to approve and help: they ensured that every other teacher in charge of every other school was kept informed, so as to get other students in on the platform. The response, Nikin tells me, has been positive thus far. As it should be, one can add.

I believe he should have the last word here: We hope to help the future of the MUN and upcoming delegates. We would also like to hope to expand and become Sri Lanka’s first professional MUN consultancy service and also increase the knowledge of Sri Lankans as a whole on international politics.”

We can help them, of course. By visiting their site. And perusing what they've done.

Pictures courtesy of Nikin Matharaarachchi

Written for: The Island YOUth, January 1 2017