Thai youths get life lessons at Buddhist gatherings

The Nation, May 20, 2007

Bangkok, Thailand -- Over the course of 20 days, 50 selected high-school students at a Young Buddhist Camp were shown that a person's true worth lies in more than having a fair complexion, a highly paid job, wearing designer clothes or driving a luxury car.

"Our society and education system, especially in university, teach students to feel inferior if they don't possess these things. They divert youths from Buddhist morals and drive them to become victims of materialism," said Phra Somboon Sumangkalo, chairman of the Buddhist monks' organising committee for the project.

The camp was organised by the Foundation For Children and the Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation, supported by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, to nurture young Buddhist leaders who respect the values of the King's sufficiency philosophy and can work with others to improve society and the environment.

The camp was held at two locations during the summer holidays last month, one in Phuket and the other in Khon Kaen, with 25 students at each.

The camp was aimed at high-school students in provincial areas with a basic interest in Dhamma. Despite its name, students of other faiths, such as Christians and Muslims, were also welcome.

Project director Pracha Hutanuwat said a unique feature of the camp was that students were allowed to decide on the activities and the camp rules.

"We believe they will actually learn through their decisions, not from memorising like they are taught to do in the classroom," he said.

The youths toured surrounding areas and met the locals, including people whose land and the environment they have lived in for decades have been exploited by capitalists. They then brainstormed for ways they could help these people with their problems.

"The camp inspired me to become an environmentalist," said a student.

Suwat Puhuarai, a grade 12 student from Si Sa Ket's Khun Han Wittayasan School who attended the camp in Phuket said he learned that it was possible to do good for others even without having a single baht. He and his friends chose to do social work at homes for the elderly and for retarded children. Instead of money, they used their talent for magic tricks to make residents happy.

"Money is not everything in making people happy," Suwat said.

At present, students have enough of a school system that teaches them to be individualistic and compete with others, so all activities at the camp required teamwork and unity.

Students at the camp were also introduced to many new styles and entertaining religious activities, including "meditation dancing" in which they practise meditation with slow dance.

Students could also observe the eight precepts of Buddhism.

There were also activities to help the youths see through the tricks of consumerism and materialism, including advertisers' tactics to make people feel inadequate.

The duty of the camp instructors was not to teach but to encourage the students to think for themselves and express their points of view.

"I believe that the camp made some changes in the youths, but nothing can guarantee that they won't be seduced by materialism again when they enter university and return to the old system," said Pracha.