VietNamNet Bridge – Many of her peers are blind to corruption. But 21-year-old Nguyen Thi Diem, a student in Ha Noi, is trying to lead a truthful life.
Diem once went to a teacher's house with the intention of bribing her to get higher marks so that she could get a scholarship.
"I sat at a cafe next to her house for several hours," the student said. "But I ultimately decided not to go in. My decision meant I wouldn't get a scholarship. But if I'd done it, I would have slipped into a vicious circle of bribery and corruption and endless greed."
Le Van Lan, deputy head of the office of the Central Steering Committee on Anti-corruption, says corruption can be defined as someone using personal advantages to earn private benefits. Corrupt deeds can be committed by anyone from young people to officials.
In Viet Nam, corruption is steadily increasing. The country is ranked 123 out of 176 countries and territories in corruption, he says.
The deputy head cites an anecdote where a nine-year old student is assigned to report on her classmates' progress. Some of her members, afraid their mistakes will be reported to the teacher, give her candy and picture books in order to convince her not to tell on them.
People laugh at this story and think nothing of the incident. But to Lan, it reveals how corruption is deeply embedded in Vietnamese society.
"When this student is small, she doesn't have much power. But when she grows up, the stakes will be higher," he said.
The country cannot grow and become prosperous, emphasizes the deputy head, if the youngest generation fails to lead a truthful life.
"Most of us, as young people, think we have no power and assets so there is no chance for us to commit corruption. However, corruption is not always at such a high level," said Dang Ngoc Anh, leader of a student anti-corruption group.
The student used to assume only receivers of bribes (such as traffic policemen) were culprits of corruption, while those forced to give bribes were victims. But now, she says, she understands that both parties are equally at fault.
Students also point out that corruption and lack of transparency occur frequently at school. Whenever examinations come, many teachers ask for money from students - or students voluntarily give money to teachers to get the results they wish.
Wondering how the country can be built up with such "blackened" hands, Anh and many other leaders of anti-corruption groups have been hosting activities and events to change young people's knowledge about corruption in ways that fit in with their daily lives.
Nguyen Thuy Hang, an official of Live and Learn for Environment and Community, which has organised courses on corruption and transparency for youth since 2009, says that after understanding the true nature of corruption, many young people have taken an interest in sharing their knowledge with others.
Many groups have formed online forums where students can read about corruption and express their ideas and experiences about living a truthful life and relations with teachers. Students can also get advice on dealing with life situations in non-corrupt ways. Others have hosted game shows and festivals to boost the image of honesty. Anh says her group has organised dialogues between young people and experts and published videos of meaningful life stories on this issue.
More than 4,500 students and teachers have created and signed a code of conduct that aims to "form a transparent studying environment in universities where there is no corruption." Writing contests about corruption have drawn hundreds of entries from young people.
While last year these events focused directly on corruption, this year the focus is on leading a truthful life, she said:
"When people acknowledge the meaning of a truthful life, see their life from a different angle and then make changes, the goals of anti-corruption are satisfied."
Statuses posted on online social networks reflect these changes, she added, citing two examples: "Today I dared to live truthfully and go against corruption by accepting my fault and refusing to give money to a corrupt traffic policeman," "Today I did not give money to a doctor but waited patiently in a long queue."
Since we all make choices in our lives that lead us into certain situations, Anh concluded, "there is no excuse for committing corruption and blaming it on the situation."
Diem's hope is even bolder.
"Young people will act as the change agents of society," she said. "Our efforts to convey perceptions of corruption to today's young people and orient them toward a truthful life are like small waves which will disperse everywhere to make thousands of other waves. There will be no ending. Being yourself in a world trying to turn you into a liar - that's the best way to avoid corruption."
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