In two weeks from now, more than 45,000 graduates from secondary schools will for the first time start their national service, which will see them getting involved in their home neighborhoods in different activities of public interest.
According to officials from the ministry of local government, starting January 21, secondary school leavers will have to serve their nation for free as it is envisaged by the national policy on volunteerism. Egide Rugamba, the director general at Minaloc, explained that the students will be doing the service from their homes for an average of six hours per day for three months.
Local Government Minister James Musoni recently said that the students will be involved in various activities such as sensitization and mobilization about good practices like family planning, customer care and administration among others. It will be up to the local authorities to assign the students depending on their priorities and needs.
"It's up to local government entities to decide what needs to be done," said Egide Rugamba, the director general of planning at Minaloc, adding that all activities will be coordinated at sector levels.
As D-day comes closer, local authorities say preparations are on track. In Bugesera for instance, mayor Louis Rwagaju told The Rwanda Focus that they had already formed coordinating committees in all sectors of the district. "We expect to achieve a lot through the service such as in the adult literacy program where we committed to train 5000 persons this year," Rwagaju said.
More than 1300 secondary school graduates are expected to be deployed in Bugesera's 15 sectors. Apart from the adult literacy program, Rwagaju remarked, they will play a role in sensitization on land use consolidation, registration of couples who live together but have not gone through civil marriage, and beautification, among others.
The mayor further pointed out that the temporary workforce will be of significant help to his district in achieving some of the commitments they made in their performance contract.
Ngoma sector in Huye district has already gone a step further. According to executive secretary Pascal Sawundwa, authorities had met with student representatives to discuss the activities which will focus on Huye town beautification such as maintaining gardens and Ngoma genocide memorial site, and assisting cell and sector officials to deliver certain services.
Complement to itorero
The national service comes as a complement to itorero, the camps which secondary school finalists have to follow after their national exams and during which they are instilled with Rwandan values. Boniface Rucagu, the chairman of the 'Itorero ry'igihugu' task force, noted that while the service might save the country millions of francs, it is essentially about reinforcing a culture of patriotism among younth.
"It's about introducing them to serving their nation, about getting a sense of what patriotism is," Rucagu said, adding that Rwanda is not the first country to do so. "A similar practice has been taking place in many countries such as Singapore where it even lasts for more than two years."
In addition, he remarked, even though the national service is compulsory, it also aims to instill a spirit of volunteerism in youth.
An additional benefit for the youth, at least those wanting to continue higher education, is that the service will help bridge the gap year that currently exists between graduation from secondary school and the start of tertiary studies. They will also receive a certificate of honor after completing the service, which according to some sources will become a required document to enter public service.
Some graduates however, while they consider the national service a positive initiative, wonder how they will cope during the exercise since they will not receive any facilitation. "Obviously I will be leaving home every morning to serve my nation, which is good; but I wonder how I will come back home in the evening and will have to ask even for some soap to clean my clothes," said Theogene Uwitonze from Nyaruguru.
Yet Rucagu pointed out that the service will take place close to the students' homes, so it will not require expenses for things like transport.
As part of the preparations, Rucagu noted, district mayors met Minaloc officials and the task force recently while by the end of this week, all should be in place to welcome the students.