PANAMUN: The Early Years
This year, PANAMUN will be celebrating its 25th anniversary, honoring 25 years of hard work and dedication characterized by the discussion of thousands of different issues, the participation of hundreds of students, and the addition of new aspects each year. This conference has both shaped and been shaped by unique individuals and experiences in the ISP community and has made the school and its members grow in a variety of ways. But, in order to truly understand the importance of this 25 year mark, it is important to understand and visualize what debate in the ISP community consisted of both before the creation of this conference and during its early years.
In 1993, on its 10 year anniversary as an official academic establishment, the International School of Panama hosted its first ever PANAMUN conference. The idea of beginning an MUN conference in the school was first suggested by Jason Price and, since members of the school’s community had had a lot of experience in different MUN environments the idea of starting one in their own school was very tempting. During its early years, the conference was very small, consisting of only ISP students and very few committees. Therefore, there was more focus on conferences outside the school that were much more developed, including HACIA, THIMUN, and Yale MUN, among others. These conferences both inspired students and taught them about different issues, techniques, and components that could be added to their own local conference.
The first international simulation with ISP student participation was the Harvard Model Congress Europe, which was sponsored by Harvard University in Luxembourg. For years, students continued to participate in these conferences and, in 1994, members of the International School of Panama and Harvard University worked hand-in-hand to found the Harvard Association Cultivating Inter-American Democracy, or HACIA Democracy as it’s commonly known. Since then, ISP has been a leading school in the conference and has achieved and learned many things. Mr. Stein, an important lead figure in the growth of PANAMUN, mentioned how, during the “two years [he] was there, [they] continued with HACIA and [they] also grew the program so much that [they] were able to expand and get involved with the THIMUN.” In 2001, under the leadership of Mary and Irwin Stein, ISP became an affiliate of THIMUN, which is known as the biggest MUN simulation in the world that consists of around 3,200 students from approximately 100 different countries. Traveling to The Hague for this well-known conference has, since then, become a tradition in the ISP community. In addition to these two renowned conferences, ISP students in 1999 and 2000 also traveled to New Haven, Connecticut, and participated in the Yale MUN, leaving with nearly half the delegates with an award on their second year.
As the years passed and students and teachers began to gain more experience in the fields of MUN, PANAMUN grew and flourished in many ways. An important moment of growth in PANAMUN’s history was during the early 2000s. During these times, the International School of Panama was under the administration of Jim Doran, who was responsible for finding and hiring two individuals known for starting MUN conferences in several other countries: Irwin and Mary Stein. The Steins were a very influential couple in the development of PANAMUN due to their past experiences and the help and inspiration they received from Mr. Doran and other members of the community. Mrs. Stein described how she “was inspired to do [her] best because [she] was inspired by [Mr. Doran’s] leadership.” Mr. Doran, as they both expressed, was very honest and organized. Mr. Stein explained how “when [they] got to Panama and the school, [they] actually had the exact assignments [Mr. Doran] talked about, which isn't always true when someone offers you a job. With Jim Doran, it was exactly the way he said it.” This was extremely useful since it allowed them to focus on the actual goal, which was to help the conference thrive and grow.
In 2000, when the Steins first arrived, PANAMUN only had 3 committees: Economic and Social Committee, Environment Committee and Political Committee. Also, the conference was only local, meaning that only members of the ISP community and of some other Panamanian schools, such as Balboa Academy, Colegio Episcopal and the Oxford School, among others, participated. In 2001, with the help and hard work of the Steins, the conference expanded to having 5 committees: Environmental, Political, Human Rights, Economic and Social, and Special Conference. That same year, PANAMUN became an international conference, receiving students from around the continent. As the years went by, both the amount of committees and delegates continued to grow, reaching it’s maximum height of 19 committees and around 500 students on this 25th anniversary.
The Steins were and have always been very dedicated to the creation and expansion of MUN conferences because they believe “that of all extracurricular activities the one that best prepares [individuals] for the type of work that [they’re] going to have to do at college and for later careers is this MUN-related activity.” In present day, they especially emphasize the importance of MUN conferences in the face of all problems going on around the world. Mr. Stein described how he believes it is very “important for people in schools to be developing the best diplomatic communication skills because [he] thinks there's such a failure of diplomacy in the moment in the world and we’re in a very serious moment.” He also suggested that “student[s] should remember that what they are talking about is real and that their thoughts and their opinions and their ideas are very very important because there’s really a serious shortage of good ideas out there” and it is important to make the best out of the conference to increase and develop these ideas. Mr. Stein finished off this idea by explaining how “there’s no better time than tough times for MUN to do what it needs to do.”
During its early years, PANAMUN used the slogan “Opening the Locks to a Better World,” to represent how the Panama Canal is responsible for connecting two different oceans, and, thus, many different cultures, people, and ideas. It was used to further advertise the main purpose of PANAMUN, which is to bring together a group of people from a wide variety of backgrounds to discuss and attempt to solve issues affecting the world. It has to do with, as Mr. Stein described, “bringing people together (...) and affording a more global vision to kids because that’s the world they’re gonna live in and work in and it's great if you can do it when they're young enough and open enough and energetic enough to really grow from it.” On this 25th anniversary, the conference is revolving around the theme “Closing Gaps,” which has to do with bringing people together to discuss and get rid of the different gaps that play a key role in the problems around the world.
The 25th anniversary marks a very important moment for the International School of Panama. It is evidence of the success of both the faculty and the students of the school, as well as proof that hard work pays off. PANAMUN is evidence of how big, influential things can’t be built overnight; years of work and dedication lead to the best and the most memorable and long-lasting outcomes.