opinionBy Andrew N. Matjila
A compulsory National Youth Service for Namibia!
Yes, this is the clarion call of WAD, the NGO that has no doubt made remarkable progress with the development of women in the various regions of our country. This very important national issue, a national service, was raised some time ago, and left to gather dust on the shelves of forgotten projects. That is, until a few days ago when WAD, urged on by a very active mind of its own, decided to blow off the dust from the file and publicise the issue once more.
In traditional Afrikaans this is referred to as "Die stoute skoene aantrek". Translated literally this means "To wear the naughty shoes". In essence this idiomatic expression means "To pluck up courage" or "To venture boldly" to raise an issue which others dare not touch.
The clarion call is for the state of Namibia to establish a National Youth Service to seriously get to grips with the future of young people. The NGO does not only call for the establishment of a youth service, but a compulsory youth service at that.
A tall order this no doubt, but one that needs very careful and serious consideration. This writer takes the cudgel of the letters to look at some of the considerations that merit looking into, before some of us blindly turn the proposal down without committing it to serious evaluation.
An in-depth study of the feasibility/desirability of such a venture will have to be carried out, and a debate at national level will definitely be on the cards to facilitate an understanding of what is involved here. All the 'why's and wherefores' will have to be looked into by not only experts, but also by parents whose sons and daughters will be involved in the scheme, should it ever come to acceptance, finalisation and implementation.
But in essence what is a youth service, let alone a compulsory one? One should first point out that the function of the ministry of education in a country is to carry on and extend the socialization process begun in the home. In advanced Western societies, education is concerned mainly with maintaining the existing culture.
In younger countries such as ours, however, the role of education is often to stimulate creative dissatisfaction among more intelligent youth, to make the emergence of a new elite possible. Such new elites are usually urban rather than rural in origin. In the growing up process, the youth reach a stage when they start to search for their own identity. It is in the failure of this process due to many psychological factors, that young people often fall prey to the evil side of the life of today.
A youth service is an organized attempt therefore, to reverse certain evil trends that encroach on the process of getting young people to find their identity, or simply, to grow up well. There are physiological and socio-cultural aspects to be considered in the process of nurturing young people to reach full citizenship in society.
The state should take over where parents and organized education have fallen short. Work is no doubt one of the most important formative elements in the developing self-image of the adolescent. Unfortunately, young people going through school programmes in so-called third world countries develop a terrible aversion for manual labour. Work is regarded as humiliating, especially among children who come from affluent homes. Only the poor should do work, they believe.
A youth service is an organized programme by either parents, private companies or the state, with the aim of inculcating certain basic social standards among young people, to help them along in the process of finding their identity, and from a practical point of view, to teach them how to work. Namibia has thousands of youths seeking to become part and parcel of a glorious future, but lack the wherewithal to set themselves on the road to their Utopia. Many of them need money badly, but work is not an option to work for it. Perhaps the 18 hours daily of Chinese workers will influence us to change our lifestyle with regard to work
Youth services are practised in countries such as Germany, Israel, the USA, and Asian and African countries.
There is a political school of thought that attaches militarism to programmes such as National Youth Services, particularly when they are run by the state or, to be more precise, the party that rules the country. The great teacher of East Africa, Dr Julius Nyerere (Mwalimu), instituted a youth service for Tanzania for various reasons, including unifying the people. It was a great success, apart from the socialism that was also brought in, which eventually collapsed.
In Namibia, due to the harsh policies of the colonial era, people have become very wary of any programme that seeks to bring large groups of people together. Sceptics immediately label this as a political manoeuvre to try and catch voters, especially during an election year such as this one. Hence the need to involve experts from all walks of life when national youth programmes are being planned, discussed and executed.
It is important that our Government, when considering this issue, and we hope that they do so, should do so objectively, and refrain from attaching any political stigma to it.
The Current Situation of Young People in Our Country
- Thousands drop out of school due to HIV/AIDS. Thousands fail Grades X and XII, eventually to become statistics among the ebb and flow of the unemployed, or in the extreme, won't work brigade of our city streets.
- Our education system still leaves much to be desired, and fails to seriously engage young people and to develop them for their own future.
- Namibia, having a small population, cannot offer a wide variety of employment opportunities. On the other hand, many young people leaving school are unemployable due to their lack of skills. The education system is so structured as to create hopes for university education for all. Those who don't make it have no future but are forced to resort to their own ingenuity to make a living. Unemployment is currently near 40%, and will surely escalate because of the present world's recessionary tendencies.
- Crime is becoming one of the chief occupations in the cities and towns. Theft, robbery and murder are threatening to tear the very fabrics of morality in our society. Young men now dare to attack a business place with guns blazing Western style and in broad daylight, in Independence Avenue in the capital city. What next? Terrorism?
- The drug trade is gathering momentum and, even as the security forces are doing their best to meet the threat head-on, the underworld is always one jump ahead. Terrorists need recruits in every country around the globe today, and they find ready hands in idle youth. The future does not look as rosy as we would like it to be.
- Young people are beginning to inhabit shopping centres, garages, dry riverbeds, isolated areas, parking lots, recreation centres and any other place where there are always large crowds of people. This is where they ply their trade of pick-pocketing, begging, grabbing and mugging. Prior to this it was: "Uncle, could you kindly give me a dollar?" Now it's: "I say, spare me a dollar."
- On the other side of the coin we find young women who have now entrenched themselves in the trade of the night that it is even being given some respectability through names such as 'sex worker', 'the oldest business', 'pleasure occupation', and many some such names. Worker? Business? My foot! The problem is that today's people seem to accept anything without question.
The Objective of Such a Service
How does society harness the energies that young people put into their unholy occupations in the streets, to good use? What should the main objective be in establishing a compulsory youth service with a purpose?
- Unity: Namibia has struggled for nearly 20 years now, to try to unite the people and weld them into one cohesive unit. Unfortunately party politics does not always succeed to unite people from diverse cultural backgrounds. But bringing young people together and exposing them to sharing, working together, knowing each other and recognizing each other as the children/citizens of one country, can foster unity.
- Discipline: The doing away with religious education in our schools has opened the flood gates for evil to creep in. When the Lord is excluded there is only one creature that walks in boldly, namely Satan. Training young people in skills will foster discipline and self-discovery. Pride comes in when young people realise their talents, capacity to do things, abilities, etc.
There is discipline in every effort aimed at improving the lot of the young people in our society.
- Crime: The old saying, 'The devil has work for idle hands' should not be taken literally. It has always been like that from time immemorial that idle people spend their time discussing or planning all kinds of irrational or unholy schemes. In the very volatile societies of today, when strikes, toyi-toyi's, wars, fights and any kind of misbehaviour can explode without warning, crime has become a daily occupation of the unemployed and the loafers. Unifying the youth should be the right step to root crime off our streets.
- Elimination of frustration: Young people are stressed and heavily frustrated when society does not seem to care much about their plight. Training in skills should keep their minds occupied and prepare them for adult life. Every skill must become useful in every man/woman's life at some time, and assure them of a livelihood.
- Patriotism: This is a concept that to many of us still lacks understanding. It is difficult for many to become patriots. Many love their country only if it can give them wealth or fortunes. Young people should be schooled and trained in love of their country.
JFK once said: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." And this is true patriotism.
Projects to Come from the People, Training to be Parents Friendly
After the Great War of Hitler, called World War II, Germany was left devastated in the true sense of the word.
Government buildings, schools and hospitals, roads and bridges, the whole general infrastructure of that country was virtually wiped out by the British and American heavy bombers, tanks, mortars, machine-guns and every known weapon that could be used at that time. The Russian Army came in to complete the job of wiping Germany off the face of the earth. Ironically, Germany quickly got itself on its feet to become the economic giant of Europe, even more than countries which were neutral and not involved in the war. How on earth did the Germans get that right? Education is the key of course. However, one must hasten to state, not just ordinary Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, but need-oriented education.
- The country needed roads.
- Hospitals had to be rebuilt.
- Schools had to be rebuilt.
- A relevant education system had to be forged.
- Plumbers, cleaners, welders, glass-blowers, glass-cutters, carpenters, tailors, builders, motor-mechanics, book-binders, librarians, photographers, road-builders, barbers, brewers, wine makers, dress-makers, publishers, and many others were required as quickly as they could be available.
The education system had to be so forged as to make provision for the training of people for all these occupations without delay. Thus, children had to learn skills from primary school age, so that they could be useful citizens from an early age.
In 10 years' time the German industrial machine was switched on, and that country never looked back. The question that now arises is: "What makes us Africans, and I'm referring to Africa from North to South, yes, what makes us think that by sending everyone to university, we shall be able to improve our lot.
Everybody should become a doctor? A teacher? An engineer, a professor, a pilot? That is not possible.
Unfortunately the leaders who take over in Africa after independence, do not always structure education for the maximum good, but merely scratch on the surface of what was left by the colonial government.
The impression is immediately created to young people that the colonial government was bad, not because of its policies, but that it enslaved everybody by making them work. The children grow up seeing work as slavery. The result is retrogression.
Here was a starving Germany that had made itself the enemy of the whole world, now faced with the task of lifting itself out of the mud, alone. No one would help Germany then, but through skills, the leadership of Konrad Adenauer, a Marshall Plan and putting shoulder to the wheel, the country became one of the most prosperous industrial nations in the world. German skills and technology did it, together with a supportive goal-oriented nation and willing youth who would forsake pleasure to raise their country out of the ashes.
On our continent, many countries inherited the equivalent of what was destroyed in Germany from Portugal, England, France, Belgium, etc, and destroyed it themselves through laziness and bad planning. Hardly a year after uhuru, delegations started crossing the skies to the former colonisers to ask for aid. Some African countries still depend on aid 50 years after independence.
The youth must be taught skills after independence, to compensate for the exit of colonial technicians who have left the country. Even if they qualify for university entrance, it is of crucial importance that every boy and girl should be taught skills in a free country.
A country where everyone knows how to handle a spade will survive.
In Namibia the Owambo people are known to be hard workers. To see millionaires among them is not funny, they bend their backs to work. They are in the mines, in the fields, on the farms, in the hotels, everywhere one goes they are there working. White citizens have become so used to this fact that it is not unusual to hear them say: "My Wambos sal die job kom doen" (My Owambos will come and do the job), meaning, my Owambo employees of course.
Structure of Such a Daring Scheme
I foresee revolutionary, non-political, regional structures independent of each other, but coordinating their activities. Parents must be involved as some of the training, e.g. the making of traditional artefacts, wood carving, leather work, etc., can be done by local craftsmen and women.
Experts should share the planning from region to region, and private companies should be involved in this national strategic effort.
Skills should be all embracing and young people should complete every course they take. A full year's course ought to make every student proficient in whatever they are trained in. Young people should not only become priests, but in later life they should be able to say: "I did a year's course in woodwork years ago, and it is standing me in good stead now because I teach woodwork in my spare time." The Greatest Priest, Our Lord Himself, was a carpenter.
Structures could embody:
Director: A civil servant running a directorate of National Youth Service.
Managers: Regional personnel organizing training sessions. Training centres to be determined by regional authorities.
Trainers: Volunteers who may be retired people.
Qualification: An industrial certificate recognised internally.
Courses: Plumbing, auto-electrician, electricity, bakery, tailoring, dress-making, etc. Namibia's needs will determine the courses.
Instead of requesting for aid to make a road from the rich nations, let us ask for aid to train our people to make roads, to make clothes, to make shoes, to build boats, and so on.
Let us make the twenty-first century Namibia's century.