How Best We As Students Can Serve Our Country
in 1968 - 1969
A country needs not only the services of the Government for its improvement but also an active participation in its affairs by each and every citizen, who has the right and duty to play a part in managing its affairs. There are some who are not interested in the affairs of their country, who, instead of endeavouring their utmost to help their country, do things to retard improvement. People like these must make a conscious effort to overhaul their thinking and attitudes and try to correct their lapses. There are others, however, who have the patriotic blood in their veins. These are the people who are willing to serve their country even at the cost of great personal sacrifice even the supreme sacrifice of life itself!
Why can't we, too, as students imitate these people? Guyana is ours; she is our Motherland. She needs our love and service; she is calling on us to love her. Oh boy! Let us go forward and show her that we can give her our services even at the expense of the last drop of our blood or the last ounce of our energy.
One of the ways in which we can serve our country is to apply ourselves scrupulously to our studies. We come to school with an aim, that is, to be trained for whatever profession we may have in mind. Some of us may want to become doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, engineers, and what have you, and by toiling to become better men and women, a bright future prospect for Guyana is ensured. It means, therefore, that the limited amount of time we have to spend in school, let us not spend it destructively in the idle dalliance. Let us spend it constructively to plant rich seeds to blossom and bear fruit in the future.
We can serve our country, too, by being loyal to the needs of our school. We must always try our best to help our fellow students and to be respectful to our teachers. Senior students must not shirk their responsibility; they must take the initiative to set examples of courtesy, benignity, generousity and humanity which junior students may emulate. These are all useful assets we may possess to make ourselves better citizens.
Moreover, to serve our country we must associate ourselves with the numerous and various social and cultural organizations whereby we can have the opportunity to learn more. In this way we shall be more active and know the facts of life and the needs of our country. And these are the essentials in nation building.
Another important contribution we can make to our country is to give voluntary services to self-help projects. Self-help movement is an important actor in welding a true spirit of Guyanese Nationhood. It has been responsible for bringing people of various shades of colour, of varying racial origins, of different religious and political affliliations together as Guyanese, as they tackle various projects for the benefit of the communities in which they live. Through self-help, Guyanese have worked together from daybreak to night to build schools, roads, air-strips, bridges, community centres, recreation centres and the like throughout the country. This has saved Government, over the past four years, two million dollars in hard cash. This contribution is indeed what Guyana wants from us, and we can do our bit. Even if we cannot find time to participate in these projects we can, (at least) offer a substantial financial contribution.
Very closely connected to this, is the fact that if we are to serve our country we must not foster any political, racial or religious discrimination. We must be true Guyanese – not a Negro or an Indian, not a Portuguese, not a Chinese, not an Amerindian, not anything else but a Guyanese. We must not quarrel over religion nor must we hate each other because our poltical leader is a Negro or an Indian. We must dwell in unity in fulfilling our motto: "One people, One Nation, One Destiny."
Most important of all, if we are to love and serve our country we have got to set our feet the farthest in protecting our country from unjustified interference from other States and in maintaining its territory integrity. Venezuela is on our doorstep. What if there is an invasion in the near future? Must we stand up and see our beloved territory taken before our eyes? My God! We have got to throw off the cloak of cowardice and fight like bulls to defend our territory, or else we remain, as one politician remarked "hewers of wood and drawers of water." Guyana is a small nation, weak in arms, and we can through our love and devotion for our country overcome all enemies.
Guyana is ours; it depends on us for its prosperity. We, the young people, have got to enable it to play its full part in the world , and the greatest service we can give to her is our love, our labour, our devotion and our patriotism.
Serving my country was an inflection point--it set my life on a new course. A former Marine, I find myself in a constant pursuit of re-attaining the meaningfulness of those four years, chasing the feeling I had when my profession involved working in challenging conditions with teams of great people to solve big problems whose scope exceeded personal gain. Because I was in the military, I'm allowed to self-identify as having served my country; for thousands of diplomats, intelligence professionals, Peace Corps Volunteers, AmeriCorps VISTA members, firefighters, policemen, and others working to improve communities around the nation, it would be awkward to say "I served my country." It shouldn't be.
Service to country isn't linked to combat. Though I served as an infantry officer in time of war, and went to Iraq, I've never been in combat. The same is true for about half the Marines with whom I served--and that was in a combat arms unit. While those who bear the costs of battle carry a heavier burden, the rest of us can still rightly say we've served our country. Serving my country means that I gave up the normal progression of my life--high school, college, work--to do something whose end was civic. The same could be said for the veterans of many other types of national service.
Nor is the recognition of "service to country" a result of deployment abroad in austere conditions. As of 2010, about 40% of the active duty military had never deployed. That statistic is dated--and the Department of Defense has undertaken measures to share the burdens of war more evenly across the Department in recent years--but it is still instructive. Furthermore, as anyone who has deployed will tell you, for every military servicemember living in harsh conditions at a patrol base or outpost, there's one who lives in a large headquarters complete with a Green Bean Coffee and Burger King. Peace Corps Volunteers in Sub-Saharan Africa and City Year members living on small stipends in places like Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit certainly deal with more austerity than troops serving in the states or abroad on large headquarters complexes.
Because the burdens of twelve years of war have been borne by such a small percentage of the country, our appreciation for service has morphed into a reflexive deference toward those in uniform. If you've worn a uniform, people thank you for your service. More importantly, military veterans are open to benefits and hiring incentives in recognition for their service that dwarf those offered to other national servants. While new structures are needed to incentivize and recognize all types of national service, a good first step in this direction would be for us simply to acknowledge that there are a lot of ways to serve one's country.
Describing the Peace Corps, President Kennedy said "If the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying." I feel camaraderie with my fellow Marines because I share with them a knowledge of actively pursuing a virtuous life in austere conditions. I feel a comparable bond--based on the same shared, civic ethic--with my brothers and sisters-in-service who have done their time in institutions like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, Teach for America, or the State Department. They're serving their country, too--and we should recognize them for it.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute to recognize the power of national service, in conjunction with the National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11th and the 20th anniversary of the signing of the AmeriCorps legislation on September 20th. The Franklin Project is a policy program at the Aspen Institute working to create a 21st century national service system that challenges all young people to give at least one year of full-time service to their country. To see all the posts in this series, click here. To learn more about the Franklin Project, click here.
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