Letter to the Editor: National Service: To Be or Not to Be

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Joseph Darville

From time to time, the question arises as to the legitimacy of a national youth service as was proposed by the late Sir Lynden Pindling.  And once again the editorial in Saturday, May 7 edition of the Freeport News asks the question.  I say unequivocally: “Yes!”   But in what context was this idea proposed?

Long before the idea arose for a national service programme, I had instituted community service hours as a requisite for matriculation from Grand Bahama Catholic High School.  Presently, every high school in the nation has taken the clue, and now requires this service as part of their high school program.  We have now even made it an integral component of our apprenticeship training program at the Grand Bahama Shipyard. Whether in school or in the workplace, we have a nation to build.

Therefore, the idea of a national service was in the making and in the consciousness of the Bahamian psyche for some time before Sir Lynden publicly proposed the idea as a required national regime.  Unfortunately, Sir Lynden’s idea, when it was finally fleshed out into  a bill to be presented to parliament and the public, had taken on some sinister aspects which did not harmonize with the general Bahamian tradition and sense of freedom.  Actually it turned out to be nothing more than the regurgitation of the Guyanese model, based more on the perpetuation of the then existing political status quo.  The model would have resulted in a colossal interruption of family life, requiring married and older individuals to be mandatorily recruited.  It did not take into consideration those individuals intellectually and financially capable to continue their education at the tertiary level.

The Late Lynden Pindling

Then one of the most sinister aspects was the militaristic elements which would have allowed young recruits to be trained in the use of guns and other warfare instruments.  At the very time we had blatant reminder from our Caribbean friends of what could result from placing arms in the hands of trigger happy recruits.  The situation is immortalized in the song: “Government Boots.”  Imagine the number of murders we could have today, as a result.

It was for these and many other historically recorded reasons, that the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association, then under the direction of the then President, Fred Smith and myself led the war to ‘Kill the Bill.’  We, however, did not actually kill the bill; it died a natural death as it was eventually seen by the majority of Bahamians to be the death knell for many of our inalienable and national rights and freedoms.

However, we did not stop there.  We carried out a major investigation of national service plans around the globe; we held wide consultations with the Bahamian public, spent many hours in research, and in due course, our President, Mr. Fred Smith compiled a modern, enlightened model of a national service bill which would have catapulted our young Bahamians into a nation building army rather than an armed force designed to bolster the state status quo.  However, as have gone other models proposed by individuals and committees, it sits gathering dust in some cabinet closet.  Our beloved departed friend, Calvin Kemp, who had a passion for the systematic development of our youth, also left a document as a model of national service.  In recent times also the government has commissioned committees to draft plans for such programs, but they too are dying an unnatural death, hidden away in some government office.

Even the most simple among us could only conclude that our governments have not had the political will or have not seen the necessity to invest in the systematic development of our youth beyond the high school level.  Consequently, thousands leave high school every June with not the slightest notion as to what their  lot will be in July or beyond.   We send them forth with few, if any, tools with which to build a life for themselves.  Ninety percent cannot find  jobs, only five to ten percent have the financial resources to continue their education at the tertiary level.  And then we wonder why they so quickly become pariahs on society?  We set them up for failure and then they return to wreck havoc on every institution and structure in our land.  We are to blame, for by our inaction we have laid a criminal path for them.  Self preservation is as serious natural instinct and when it kicks in at a very early age it employs whatever instruments and means at hand to attain its goal; guns and drugs have become the weapons of choice in our beloved land.

God and nature have blessed us with enormous natural resources, like land, sea, climate, sunshine, water.  However, we have become blinded by what I term parasitic economies, those that feed of others, mainly outside our borders, in order to sustain us, like tourism, banking, gun running, drug trafficking, people trafficking, etc.  These have little or nothing to do with the natural abilities of our people, but they bring instant financial satisfaction.  We then produce another breed of persons who feed off these aspects, for they see no other means for feeding themselves.

We do our youth a criminal disfavor if we do not arm them, every one of them, with means to survive once they exit the halls of high school.  We should be able to track every young man and every young woman and make certain that he/she is gainfully and honorably employed.   Today, we are reaping the bitter fruit of our own planting or lack of such.  We cannot but admit that we may have lost a large number of few generations; but God forbid that we allow this to continue among the thousands who are still under our charge, manageable and many of whom are very willing to make a radical shift in the direction of this nation. We are talking about approximately less than sixty thousand young people with whom we have a God-given obligation to guide, protect and elevate to a much greater deserving power in our small nation of little more than quarter of a million people.

I would chance to predict that the next general election will not only be decided by the droves of the unemployed youth in our nation, but that the election platforms will out of necessity be based upon how we as a nation will recognize, organize, elevate and invest in our young people in order to save this nation from total anarchy and destruction.  Next month, June, we again send forth another six thousand plus high school graduates.  And into what are we dumping them?!  Indeed, one sure thing, thousands  of them will be eligible to vote for the first time. Every politician worth his/her salt must recognize and address the plight of young people in our land and a meager handout at election time will be nothing but an insult to the future builders of this nation.

Legislations, law enforcement, and a plethora of modern police techniques have not and will not result in the transformation of our society.  This transformation will only come about when we as a people recognized the role to be played by every citizen in this country with enormous emphasis on the youth of the nation, by giving everyone of them a meaningful place.  Remember, a nation is judged by the way it treats its children.  In this regard we would be harshly judged!

Indeed Sir Lynden’s idea of national service was good and it’s not too late to institute it with a modern and enlightened model. Implementing it at the high school level, which has been widely advocated, will allow our youth to build society and the chances of them wanting to destroy it later will be enormously lessened.  We still have great and enlightened minds in this nation among the young and the old, whose motivation is nothing more than the realization of the good and full realization of the potential of our people.  Politics aside, we can easily and readily bring about a radical, dynamic and life-supporting transformation in our little, but immensely blessed nation.  We simply need political will and financial resources allocated to realize our dream.  We have willing hands!

Joseph Darville

Vice President/GB Human Rights Association

About the Author:

Mr. Joseph Darville is a native of Long Island, Bahamas and a resident of Freeport, Grand Bahama.

·           Teacher [English, French] at St. Augustine’s College in Nassau.

·           Teacher [French] Senior School Coordinator and Guidance Counselor a Queen’s College in Nassau.

·           Past Vice-President of the Bahamas Union of Teachers

·           He is a founding member and past President of the Bahamas Counselor’s   Association

·           Past President of the Grand Bahama Mental Health Association

·           Past Vice President of the Caribbean Federation of Mental Health

·           Founding member and Chairman of Operation Hope, [volunteer drug prevention, education & rehabilitation program]

·           Co-Chairman of the Bahamas National Drug Council

·           Founding member and Past -President of Grand Bahama Human Rights Association

·           Founding member of the Caribbean Human Rights Network

·           Administrative Vice-President of the Freeport YMCA for three years

He is an Advanced Master/Teacher in Reiki training, a natural energy healing method, as well as a teacher of Transcendental Meditation.   Presently, he is Director of Workforce Development at the Grand Bahama Shipyard. He has received many awards for outstanding service and achievement in teaching, communication,  and citizenship.

Joseph can be reached at jdarville2002@yahoo.com

  • Why does Government have to have their hand in everything? Are we a Communist country? The fact of the matter is that service is greatly hindered because of the Governmental bureaucracy that is involved when you are trying to do something good for the youth or your community. PM’s want all the credit so they will say they like your idea but instead of working with you – they will steal your idea and push you to the side!

    The vices: Political Greed, Selfishness, & Naïveté. These are placed first before the interest of any youth or the community as a whole.