Gerry Gouveia can think of a whole host of reasons why it would be more than worth the while to reintroduce the Guyana National Service (GNS) as a dimension to the experience of young Guyanese. He has always believed, he says, that “in some small way,” it constitutes a measure of ‘giving back’ to a country that gives to you. “Giving back,” he insists is as good a reason as any why there should be a GNS.
Gouveia himself is a ‘graduate’ of the GNS and a convert of the ideals that underpinned the creation of the institution. He believes that it is, in large measure, an advanced effort in “social cohesion,” a “throwing together” of Guyanese of all walks of life. “There are several things, several elements that comprise the building of a society such as ours. Our young people have to learn to understand each other, each other’s
customs; we have to rub shoulders in an environment of equals. I remember that that was part of my experience in the National Service.” He puts to one side, swiftly and without even the indulgence of a comment, the notion that had been bandied around in some quarters that the GNS was some devious social experiment.
It is, too, he believes, “a matter of patriotism and loyalty.” He says that there was something about the experience of “being involved in collective undertakings for collective good; for the good of the country; helping to develop interior locations and learning skills and internalizing valuable experiences. Lots of the chores were ordinary,” he says, “but the total experience created in you a sense of value, a sense of worthwhileness.
He holds no indifference to the various responses which the GNS elicited from the Guyanese society as a whole. He believes that the criticisms, at least many of them, derived from having misunderstood the concept. There had been talk about scholarship awardees and university students being dispatched to the interior and to all sorts of unkind consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth. National Service was, among other things, a very discipline organization which dispensed many valuable lessons in patriotism that helped to develop a sense of loyalty, a sense of country. After you had had the experience it re-enforced the notion of being Guyanese.” In fact it supports the concept that says: “ Education is a lot more than a class room”.
Not that he embraced what the GNS offered ‘lock, stock and barrel.’ He was less than keen on the overt militarization, what he described as “the preponderance of guns.” He believed that the GNS could easily have been mistaken for an arm of the security services which he insists, it was not, despite what had been, persistently, the suggestion that the military para orientation of the GNS was President Forbes Burnham’s way of seeking to make a point – albeit, not a particularly strong one – to neighboring Venezuela regarding that country’s designs on the Essequibo.
Gouveia says he would have the GNS again, without the full military trimmings, but rather, structured to respond to the social challenges confronting young Guyanese and seeking to provide them with skills that would help to respond to the problem of high unemployment. He wants hinterland centres to flourish but he wants, as well, to see a National Service that seeks to respond to the needs, challenges and demands of a time that is more than a quarter of a century later. In other words we must embrace GNS conceptually but we must be mindful of the danger of copying the template without making the requisite adjustments.
Momentarily, he reflects on the considerable journey from being a serving members “all those years ago” securing a state scholarship to study aviation in the United States, serving in the Air Corps as an officer of the Guyana Defence Force and eventually venturing into the private sector and building a successful company……….from the ground up. Gouveia says he values the journey “for the sum of its parts,” for the unique perspective on being a Guyanese that it has afforded and for the fact that the whole experience has imbued him with an extraordinary sense of nationalism. It is a journey which, he says, he cherishes.
These days, he sees a re-born National Service as “perhaps the ideal tool” for responding to the particular challenges that confront Guyana at this time. That challenge, he says, is about “preparing for the period ahead. “We will need disciplined, skilled and patriotic young people.
We hardly need make a case for reincarnating the GNS.