Uniformed service would help develop Hong Kong’s youth: China Daily columnist

In many other parts of the world, male school-leavers are obliged to undergo “boot camp” military training or Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and then to serve their country in uniform for a year or two. 

Indeed, this period of national service used to be a right of passage for the youngsters of most European and some Asian countries. 

Such a system not only provides plenty of recruits to the armed forces in those places, and ready to be trained up for more specialised missions, but also contributes to both the character and physical development of the youngsters.

Hong Kong people are not required to join the national armed forces, but there are many benefits — to society, as well as to the individuals concerned — to be achieved by joining one of those uniformed groups which operate here. The choice of which to join is wide, and varied.

Legions of Hong Kong youngsters have been developed by the Scout Association of Hong Kong, which had more than 67,000 uniformed members last year. As with many other uniformed groups, their key objectives are to develop young people through rigorous training and organized activities, while at the same time providing a range of public services to our wider community.

This year the Hong Kong Girl Guides Association celebrated their 100th anniversary. 

There are some 13,000 youngsters in the Boys’ Brigade here and 18,000 in the Red Cross Youth organization. Ambulance and nursing cadets are also trained by the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. 

Then there is the recently established Hong Kong Army Cadets Association.

All these uniformed groups, and more besides, provide a wide range of community support activities, ranging from first-aid care, to support to the elderly, and even to projects overseas. 

Joining such a uniformed organisation here is of course entirely voluntary, though peer and parental or school pressure may encourage many to participate.

It is said that in life, what you get out from it is in direct proportion to what you put in to it. 

All these thousands of young people who participate in such organisations in their free time to better themselves could, instead, spend their leisure time playing computer games or on similarly passive activities — activities which do nothing for their society and nothing to help them develop their potential.

At the very least, those many Hong Kong children who have no brothers or sisters can escape the well-known “preciousness” syndrome of being a spoilt only child, interacting mostly with indulgent adults, by taking part in well-organised physical activities with other youngsters of a similar age. 

I am not suggesting that they should be subjected to the strictest military regime of a tough army boot camp, but a lesser intensity of military-style discipline and physical exercise.

During training, the youngster faces mental and physical challenges along with his peers. 

They learn to develop the mental and physical resilience needed to get through tough challenges, and also to develop teamwork by helping each other on joint endeavours. 

This spirit of cooperation is built up by going through shared hardships and problem-solving, and by the social interactions which form a natural part of any such uniformed group’s program. 

Leadership is a skill best developed by doing it, and all these youth groups have junior leaders — which obliges the ordinary participants to accept discipline and for the cadet leaders to build up the skills of motivating and organising the efforts of others on their team. 

And every member of the team is expected to pull his own weight, thereby cultivating a strong sense of responsibility. 

Such skills cannot be developed if the youngster spends all his time obsessed by his smartphone: Only through joining such groupings as those mentioned here is he likely to be exposed to such challenges. 

Those people skills so developed will come in very handy when he later joins the Hong Kong workforce.

There have been several tragic incidents in Hong Kong recently, of university — and even of school-age youngsters committing suicide. Undergoing challenging training exercises — such as those arranged for new members of uniformed groups — can also help toughen youngsters’ adversity quotient and emotional quotient.

For all these reasons, it would be great (for society, as well as for the young people so involved) if both school authorities and parents encouraged every young person in Hong Kong to join one of these uniformed youth groups.

The author is a long-term commentator on Hong Kong social issues and a former boy scout.