A letter in the print media recently requested answers of, and made statements on, the Guyana National Service which caught my attention: “…how many National Service Guyanese who picked cotton all day in the sun have become gainfully employed in agriculture fulltime is unknown.” Editor, as a patriot with others who participated in working the cotton fields at Kimbia, we tested ourselves while experiencing for the first time in our lives the seeing and touching of an agricultural crop. We had different vocations to pursue but learnt a lot from the experience.
As a patriot, I hold no brief for any politician, political party, system or era, but I do ponder on some of what is said and written by writers, politicians, critics, grandstanders and columnists. I need then to ask, how many cane-cutters who laboured for years in the cane-fields have become gainfully employed as agriculturists? I need also to inform many that a unit of the Guyana National Service was in every public school from Waini to Crabwood Creek, to Aishalton, to Kato.
These voluntary units were the Young Brigade (at primary level) and the National Cadet Corps (secondary level). Between 1975 and 1985, Guyanese youths in schools were taught the importance of patriotism, respect for self, others, authority, other people’s property, the meaning of the National Pledge and Anthem, personal discipline, loyalty to country as well as other tenets for national development. The education system had teacher officers who included patriotism in the curriculum, as the GNS was an extension of formal education. (Observe that in 2014, a Jamaican Senator is proposing mandatory National Service for youths.) Cotton and legume harvesting were economic ventures from which cultural ideas emerged – songs, choreography, art, craft. And yes, there was a military threat from the eastern and western borders which required a patriotic awareness beginning with the young minds. Had the military threats developed into an extended physical confrontation, then every citizen would have had to become a soldier.
Editor, the baby having been thrown out with the bathwater, we have to contend with what now obtains in our small society – “ubiquitous decadence,” as observed by another writer.