I do not remember the day, but I do remember particular details. I will never forget the room, the time, and the events as they rapidly unfolded. I had seen an e-mail informing me of an urgent meeting in LC 2 at 3:30 PM sharp that afternoon, only to enter the room and discover that not so many students were present for the meeting.
Mr. Faith gave the names out of students that were to attend the Harvard Model United Nations Conference in Boston, Massachusetts in late January of 2020 – just four months from that moment. I remember that he called my name last and thus, not telling anyone because I believed it was an illusion in my head. I remember that evening, waiting for a follow-up e-mail to truly confirm that I was indeed 1 of 10 students chosen to attend the conference. When I received all the confirmation I could, there was a lot of nervous-excitement.
I am Towela Kams Tembo, a member of the International Relations class at the African Leadership Academy. I am passionate about diplomacy and its place in the hearts of young African leaders that have within them the burning desire to challenge the injustice of all shapes and forms across our continent. For five years, my work as a documentary photographer has sparked a keen interest to discuss critical issues that irk me.
It was international photojournalist Billy Weeks who first advised me to use my imagery to express my authentic desire and on contrast, genuine disgust for the ills of the world. I have taken his words seriously since, using pixels to convey my comments on the rotten society I live in, and creating a virtual reality of the world I would like to live alongside this filth. Learning how to balance these parallel yet powerful emotions of love and hate is an art. I have witnessed it translate in my journey of learning international relations – a journey I did not initially think would welcome an artsy-fartsy person like me with open arms.
Weeks after I heard the good news, I began to ask myself many questions. “Sure, you’re going to this exciting conference but are you even ready?” I have always been clear about using my voice for the benefit of others, but a room filled with 150 students at a conference in a whole other continent and with the limited experience I had with international relations was extremely frightening. During my preparation for the role as Delegate of Niger for the Legal Committee of the Model United Nations General Assembly to discuss evaluating humanitarian aid, I chose to immerse myself into the reality of the lives of Nigerien people.
There was nothing I did not do. I did online research. I watched the videos. I read news articles from across the world. I contacted visual artists in Niger who have done exhibitions on Islamic State terrorist attacks. I read stories of people caught in human trafficking in the north of Niger. I learned about young children discriminated for being IDPs and denied access to education. Many times, it was difficult to continue doing research. HMUN is not typically an emotionally-vesting experience for many, but it was for me. How could it not?
They say “it’s just a conference”, but at the core of my being, I was certain that it would be an evident start of many other opportunities. I’d amplify my voice to tell the African story – to discuss the real issues that affect real people in a country that is oh-so-real to me. I thought I was not ready. I thought I
was just a photographer who knew nothing about stepping to space as prestigious as that. I did not think I would be able to offer much. My intention to speak overcame my fears and as much as I grew more and more attached to the reality of Nigerien people, I discovered not to be more prepared than I was to come up with solutions that would serve them – even if that meant within the confines of a simulation.
Dear Delegate, this may be your first time at Model African Union or perhaps it’s your second or third. Whichever it is, make no mistake, you were chosen to be in the room for a reason – to amplify your voice, to be heard, and to hear others. Whatever your background might be, you were chosen to represent Africa and be part of ongoing dialogues regarding the development of a continent that has shaped you in one way or another. Be mindful of this as you raise your placard, present a motion or draft resolutions. Your input is valuable and your presence warmly embraced. After all, you’re a delegate and all are delegates. You can do this!