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Character Education

Character Education Camp in Johannesburg

southafrica_2517Johannesburg, South Africa - Sixteen teenagers from Swaziland and South Africa took part in a camp on Character Education from December 14-26 at Wendywood. The purposes were to help these youths build their character and empower them to deal with the various challenges facing them today, namely, peer pressure, drug abuse, premature sex, teenage pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV infections, rape, crime, and teenage suicide, just to name the major ones.

In opening the camp, Rev. Jean Augustin Ghomsi, Secretary General of UPF Southern Africa, told the youths, "You are a special generation and you need to look critically at the lifestyle of your friends or what you see on TV and in movie theaters. Do not follow them just because you want to 'fit in' and be 'cool.' You have a great future ahead of you. Don't waste it by indulging yourselves in satisfying immediate desires or trying to follow the crowd."

He encouraged them to follow their dream and focus on building their character to become true children of God. "Youth is the most important time in your life," he said. "This is the time to sow good seeds so as to harvest the best fruits in your old age."

The youths were encouraged to develop unity of heart, thought, and godly lifestyle as a way to become exemplary children and patriots as well as to deal with life's challenges. The autobiography of the UPF founder, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was read, with emphasis on his early life. Through his example of devotion and dedication to heaven, the youths could learn valuable lessons. They were impressed by his adventurous and sacrificial spirit and his non-conventional life.

They were also taught life skills, including how to deal with peer pressure and how to resist being drawn into harmful activities. One of them who was having problems with a stepmother and her children gained insights about how to love and serve them so as to ease the pressure on her father and promote peace in the family. They were encouraged to develop better relationships with their parents and siblings.

southafrica_2517-2Mrs. Margita Merkel-Welman highlighted the necessity of character education for holistic human development and explained character formation as a combination of virtues and vices. Vices are bad habits, and virtues as good habits developed as a regular pattern of actions, depending on the daily choices we make, starting in the mind with our aspirations, desires, imaginations which flow into our attitudes and words and expressed in patterns of behavior.

The crisis that teenagers face as their intellect and deductive skills develop and they become aware of peoples' faults and weaknesses was easily understood and confirmed by the participants.

In dealing with good and evil, Mrs. Welman emphasized that "although society and the environment play a significant role in influencing our perception of reality and we tend to want to shift the responsibility to the outer world, if we stay firmly on the side of good we will not be influenced in the wrong direction. She gave examples of saints, sages, and patriots who strove to do what is morally good, advanced their respective societies to a level of betterment for the whole.

Concerning the issue of freedom, she helped them to understand that true freedom cannot be found in doing evil but only in doing good. We need to listen to the voice of our conscience in order to be always on the side of goodness. "However," she said, "when we act against the voice of our conscience, a force or energy is released and becomes guilt. Guilt is healthy psychologically when it warns us that we are going in the wrong direction; it's like the pain we feel when we put our hand in the fire." She encouraged everyone to follow the Golden Rule, "Do to others what you would like them do to you."

In teaching about character building, Rev. Ghomsi emphasized the importance of mastering the influences of our senses and, even more importantly, the words that we speak. He said, "words are not as innocent as we think. There are certain words that we have to completely remove from our vocabulary, such as swear words, insults, and belittling words." He gave some biblical examples. "You are what you speak," he said. "If you want to be great in life, think first before you say something. Do not use words lightly. Once something is spoken, you can't take it back."

Many times the participants made the purity pledge, promising to keep themselves pure by not touching or allowing themselves to be touched sexually by the opposite sex. One of them had a profound experience during one these pledge sessions. "At first, it seemed like a joke," he said. "But as the days went by I realized how serious this was for my life and my family. I cried."

Beside the normal program, they also enjoyed games like pool, yut (a traditional Korean game), basketball, card games, and performances by the WAIT team.

At the end, prizes were given to the top three participants, both boys and girls, as well as for teamwork.

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