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Uniformed organizations still vital to shaping young people of good character

  • Voon (R): Our objective is to give young people hope, just like an anchor that is sure and steadfast, that whatever experiences and skills we impart on them will allow them to do something purposeful in their lives.

By Voon Zhen Yi

I believe building a brighter Malaysia starts from the development of our young people.

Though holding a regular 9am-6pm job, I also volunteer and invest most of my time during the weekends (including public holidays) to a uniformed organization called The Boys' Brigade (BB).

Its activities cater to young people between the ages of 6 to 21 years old, from primary school up to college. The BB, just like many NGOs of its kind, is operated by volunteers -- that is serving without pay.

The Company (a BB unit is called a Company) I serve in, the 3rd Kuala Lumpur Company, operates at the YMCA of Kuala Lumpur from 1pm until 6.30pm on most Saturdays, a half-day job that sometimes goes beyond the listed 5-6 hours.

Why the BB?

Though young people of this current generation seldom find uniformed organizations appealing anymore, I believe the role played by co-curricular activities like BB ever more important than before.

Though the current generation of young people may be smarter, bold and daring to voice out their opinions than ever previous generations due information technology and changes in culture, they have also lost many crucial values at the same time. They lack discipline, self-control, a sense of respect, and are becoming increasingly self-centred. This is hardly surprising as more and more parents make decisions on their behalf.

With the generations before, young people likely face a case of the absent parent who were both too busy at work and had to learn how to fend for themselves, forcing them to develop the skills to be independent.

Today, parents wanting the best for their child often unintentionally go to the extent of spoiling them. The only decisions young people now make are decisions that fulfill their "pleasure factor" -- wanting to play with their electronic devices whenever they want, not wanting to do house chores, not wanting to do anything under the sun, nor mingling or making friends. The only thing parents forces them to do is homework or to attend lots of tuition classes.

All this creates a massive gap in terms of cognitive ability and street smartness -- which is a gap that cannot be ignored, especially if the young are expected to stand up on their own as adults one day.

In the BB, we try to give the very same opportunities young people of previous generations benefited from -- the ability to make good life-changing decisions and be independent.

There is a misconception that uniformed organizations only march around all day, which is far from the truth! For example, the BB emphasizes the development of an all-rounded skill set covering Educational, Social, Physical and Spiritual aspects of life. It is not so much the invention of something new as young people in the past have unknowingly receive this form of training.

Not many of us realize that simple things like learning how to work together as a team, organizing a game, planning a camp, keeping a common work area tidy, and other activities which involve working together with others, teach us valuable lessons that any individual needs to live as responsible members of the society. What the BB does is it that it continues to provide these training opportunities to young people.

This generation of young people are more skeptical with uniformed organizations as they don't like the idea of conformity nor like being scolded. In fact, we find that the harsher we are, the less likely they will stay, and we cannot transform young people if they aren't willing to come back to be trained. Therefore, the scolding and shouting that was common just a generation ago is now replaced with a need to show care and to reason.

It is good to get young people to ask themselves "why?", get them to accept their limitations and then realize their potential, giving them the drive to do better. The tradition "tell-and-do" no longer works as young people need to be affirmed and encouraged for their achievements instead of being scolded whenever they do wrong.

At the same time, there is the added challenge of guiding them as they aren't independent just as yet, that is they lack initiative. This process takes time and patience. But if the Boys are willing to learn and be trained, the ones that remain after a few years often end up being very capable and responsible individuals, which is a rewarding thing to see as volunteers.

Our Boys are often the high-achievers in schools, universities, and later on in their lives -- at their workplaces. Their training truly shows for itself as they have the street-smart knowhow in decision making. Being purely good academically is not enough.

We found that training methods need to change with the times, especially when technology and social media are destroying personal touch and social skills, the role of youth NGOs like are becoming ever more vital in providing the necessary life skills.

Tapping into trends like the Voice or Master Chef and adapting it into our overall program is necessary to keep the interest of young people alive. We even explore how computer games like Dota and CS:GO can be adapted into an activity through actual games like paintball.

Ultimately, I believe the most valuable thing that comes out from our BB training is the comradery and long-lasting friendships made. This only comes from working and suffering together, going through the pains experienced when working towards a common goal, be it through events, games or competitions, regardless of the outcome -- whether we win or fail. This is something no amount of books and tuition classes can teach.

Many people think of big ways to affect change in society. It's common to hear people giving a donation to the needy, to an orphanage, the orang asli and so on. However, these efforts are one off and can be void of commitment. Yet, change is not something that can happen overnight, and especially not through a one-off effort.

Having been a volunteer for over a decade, we find that the biggest challenge is to encourage others to become volunteers to take on the cause. Therefore, I would like to encourage people to consider volunteering their time to NGOs or youth organizations like the BB. Sure, putting food on the table and family is important -- but so is developing young people which ultimately leads to a better society for all.

What keeps volunteers going?

Serving in organization like the BB can be tiring work. It is challenging preparing materials for BB prior to every Saturday, especially when having a full-time work commitments and a social life to maintain. But what keeps me and our volunteers going from time-to-time is seeing the constant and gradual improvements shown in each of our young people. The greatest joy is seeing a young person who started off with us naughty, uncontrollable and hopeless, becoming a capable leader who can be relied on. Realizing that we are helping to transform lives, one by one and making a difference to our society, is enough reward for us.

Ultimately, our objective is to give young people hope, just like an anchor that is sure and steadfast, that whatever experiences and skills we impart on them will save their souls, not letting them drift away, but to allow them to do something purposeful in their lives.

(Voon Zhen Yi is ASLI CPPS Research Analyst & Boys Brigade Kuala Lumpur Captain.)

 

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