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The International Year of Youth encourages young people to have a greater voice

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Twenty-three-year-old Jerry Lewis Ong didn't realise his first trip to a developing country would change his life forever. 

"It was a turning point," he said about a trip to Cambodia two years ago to undertake volunteer work.

"I was so shocked to see lots of children begging on the streets. I gave money to the kids, and lots of them swarmed all over me. Then one experienced volunteer said to me: 'Do not give children money because you will encourage them to stay on the street. Once foreigners give them money, they'll keep roaming the streets asking for money. And you will ruin the work of NGOs (non-government organisations) because they are trying to get these children off the streets and into schools.' "

At a village where he helped to build shelters and wells, Mr Ong met a boy who rode a rickety, old bicycle 10km to school every day.

However, despite his eagerness to learn, the boy had to quit school because his family could not afford the $45 (1,450 baht) monthly cost to cover his education. Mr Ong said: "I felt very guilty when I learned about this. In Singapore, everyone goes to school, but not everyone appreciates it."

From the field of Information and Technology Management, he switched to the School of Social Sciences, although he realised that working in a non-profit organisation in Singapore would earn him a slightly below-average income.

Currently, he's a second-year student at Singapore Management University.

As this month marks the beginning of the International Year of Youth, Unesco Bangkok interviewed young Asians to gauge their views on youth issues in their respective countries.

Commencing Aug 12, the goal of Youth Year is to bring young people into the heart of international debate in order to recognise their contribution to society and to encourage greater participation in development.

Thai Chalan-dhorn Ruangpakdee, 22, raised the issue of how young people in Thailand put too much value on wealth.

"They dream of being rich. They want to get a rich husband or wife. Some parents even ask their children to find rich people to marry. They want to get a highly-paid job without knowing if it's really the job they would like to do, or [whether it would] make them happy. They care only about money," she said.

"Parents spoil their kids a lot. They give them everything they ask for. If one day their parents cannot provide them with what they want, what will happen? It could lead to crime, prostitution and drugs."

She also said the media is partly to blame for the obsession with materialism.

"[The] [m]edia cover quite a lot of celebrity and gossip news, and this is nonsense as it doesn't provide any useful information besides showing brand-name stuff and [wrong] concepts of being cool."

Xiaohui Gu from Peking University said that teenagers in China lack responsibility and psychological endurance and that this is a consequence of the country's one-child-only policy.

"These young people, because they are the only child in the family, are brought up as members of a privileged class. They are like delicate flowers, and [they] don't really have to encounter any frustrations in life.

"So they don't know what to do when they encounter obstacles in life because they are not prepared for the responsibilities of society." In Burma, what weighs heavily on every student's mind are the university entrance examination and their score, said Nay Lin Aung.

"In my country, the ambitions, life and future of most students will be changed by the scores on the university entrance examination. After high school, we have just one chance to pass the exam.

"I understand examination scores are important to gain admission into university, but we have only one chance to take the examination and to score high enough to be admitted into our desired university. "That's why I think the matriculation exam in my country should be more flexible to give a second chance to students to be able to get admission into the university that they desire most," he said.

- For more information on the International Year of Youth, visit this website:

Rojana Manowalailao is a media and communications officer at Unesco Bangkok. She has a master's degree in communication from the University of Missouri-Columbia, United States, and a master's degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (Tefl) from Thammasat University. Rojana can be contacted at

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