In the mid-1970s the Burnham government created the Guyana National Service. The government at the time offered numerous reasons for its creation, among which were (a) To offer our young people an opportunity to experience the beauty of Guyana. An opportunity they would otherwise have been unlikely to have, (b) To encourage our youths to develop an interest and possible love for agriculture, (c) To offer youths an opportunity to learn new skills in a hands- on environment, (d) To create small towns in areas that are being claimed by our neighbours. This latter one needs to be explained. Burnham, I got the impression, was quite aware that it is successful occupation that strengthens control over land.
Thousands of us responded to Burnham’s call and did join the GNS. Life on the centres meant hard work. We were up by 6 am and would return to our billets between 4 pm and 5.30 pm (at sowing and harvesting time we could be out later in the fields). That done, we had to prepare ourselves for guard duties at nights (remember we were living in or near areas claimed by our neighbours).
When, together, people share such experiences they tend to develop very close relationships, same was true for members of the GNS. Indeed, even when on leave (break) away from the centres, many of us found ourselves spending huge portions of our leave in the company of comrades with whom we had arranged to have our leave coincide. GNS members enjoyed each other’s company and spent so much time together that a decision was made for us to have our own sports club. A place where we could meet and have a drink among persons of like mind.
Our inclination to ‘do things we self’ prevented us from asking government to build us a club house. Instead, we made monthly donations from our small income for purchasing building materials and we constituted the labour force necessary for the building. And so, it was by these means that the National Service Sports Complex was built.
Since it is the nature of the PPP to seek to destroy anything that it has no claim to, today the building still stands, but was given the ridiculous and meaningless name – ‘the Carifesta Sports Club,’ by the then PPP government. So, the complex built by my colleagues no longer stands as a monument to their efforts. It no longer represents and remind us of the most ambitious effort undertaken by a CARICOM country at involving young people in nation building.
I want the name the Guyana National Service Sports Complex to be restored. I want a huge statue of a GNS pioneer with weapon in one hand and a fork in the other, signifying the GNS creed of building and defending, with the name of our exceptional song – ‘We are building’ engraved on its base. I want it to stand at our complex’s entrance, to serve as a reminder to those who pass by and our young people in general, that once young Guyanese did leave their homes on the coast land and travelled to the jungles of Guyana and carved out towns. These young Guyanese ate what they produced, exported cotton and blackeye peas to the Caribbean, learnt new productive skills and how to defend themselves and country. I want present day young people to know this and take courage, while renewing their belief in their own abilities to do. For, at some point, as a people we will have to move away from the coast. We will have to tame our jungle, and put our vast land under production, if we hope to truly develop. The truth is that the fate of CARICOM depends on the extent to which we are able to do this.
That a government led by the PNCR has been in power for over two years and has not recognized the need to, and corrected this wrong done to the memory of the GNS by the then PPP/C government, is scandalous. I ask the PNCR – what is the matter with you? Look at the extent to which the PPP is willing to go to ensure Red House stands as a monument to the memory of their leader – Dr. Cheddi Jagan, and to him alone!
To those who were members of the Guyana National Service and today occupy high or low positions within this present government, persons who are not actively, incessantly appealing to the government to correct this wrong done to ex- members of GNS and the nation, shame on you all.