Soft skills for the kiddies

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Ly Pham Trung Hieu, 14, remembers when he realized he truly loved his mother.

It was the day he hand-washed his clothes for the first time a daily task for participating youths in a recent "Summer In Army" course held by the Southern Youth Center (SYC).

"Leaving home and learning how to take care of ourselves has helped us to grow up," said Hieu, a student at Ngo Si Lien Secondary School in Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Binh District. "Learning to be self-reliant has made me love my parents more."

Hieu is among thousands of teens participating in summer courses held by several institutions nationwide to improve basic survival skills that are often absent among many locals and encourage good behavior.

Pham Quang Minh said he used to live "insensibly" without thinking about his close relatives and even himself and his future.

But things have improved after he participated in a one-week course for online game addicts at the SYC an affiliate of the Central Youth Union.

"Maybe that was the first time I smiled a lot after locking myself in the room with the computer and refusing to go out to relax and take care of my family," Minh said. "Here [at SYC], a teacher that I consider a close friend has helped me understand how much my parents have sacrificed to offer me a bright future. I had forgotten that."

Huge demand

Nguyen Thanh Nhan, the SYC director, said that local youths are short of soft skills (e.g. social grace, personal habits, communication) and there has been huge demand for the summer courses held by the center which includes Summer In Army.

"We have fanned the flame of family love among them, bringing them closer to their family in addition to building soft skills," he said.

He said three courses for online games addicts since 2008 have brought good fruits as some 80 percent of the participants have improved following the training.

"They used to immerse themselves in the virtual world," said Nhan. "We directed these kids to new interesting things in real life like hip hop dancing, artistic performance and searching for useful information via Internet."

At the Hoang Phap Pagoda in Hoc Mon District, personality classes have been in high demand since 2003. Monks there have offered the classes without any fees for participants.

Monk Thich Tam Luong said around 300 youths attended the summer course, entitled "Summer Cultivation Retreats" in 2003 and the number has increased drastically to 6,200 in 2009 and more than 7,000 this summer.

Learning to love

Luong said each course is only seven days long but the youths, aged 13-25, are totally separated from the outside world in the pagoda where they follow a daily routine of practicing physical exercise and team activities.

"But the most important thing is that they are told how to live responsibly, become a good person and be respectful to their parents," he said.

Huynh Duy Thao, an employee at Khai Tri Shelter in Vinh Long Province, said that, in recent years, he has registered numerous orphans and disadvantaged children for the summer courses at the pagoda.

"It's good to have another and effective way to teach them to become good people besides our training at the shelter," he said.

Chau Say, a Khmer ethnic from Tra Vinh Province, said he has improved much amid a summer course at the pagoda from July 5-11.

"I will no longer say swear words and fight with my friends. I will try to become a good person because I learned the magic of love through the lesson here," he said.

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