Tracing NYSC’s fifty-year ambitious journey in empowering Lanka’s youth
The National Youth Services Council ( NYSC), the premier gover nment body established for youth development in Sri Lanka, celebrated 50 years in 2018. However, it appears that, purely from the lack of any anniversary activity, the NYSC itself has forgotten that it has completed 50 years. We at times feel that, the activists do not know the origin of the NYSC, which was always a prominent institution among government service providers. Therefore, in my opinion, at this moment in which the NYSC celebrates its Golden Jubilee, the recalling of its history may lead to a better restructuring of its activities in the future.
The 1960s was a period of awakening of youth not only in Sri Lanka but around the world. Youth unrest which were taken place in almost all countries in this time was also seen in Sri Lanka. Hence, in 1967, a Government committee chaired by an Israeli expert, Brigadier Ariyeh Levy of the Republic of Israel Armed Services was appointed by the government at that time, to probe youth issues and make recommendations to the government. The committee presented its recommendations. At the same time, they were focusing attention on the youths who drop out from their formal education: That is, about 70 percent of the youth who drop out of school without completing their formal education. The “Levy committee” recommended the establishment of a National Youth Organisation to channel this wasted youth energy towards national development, while giving them skill training. The report was published as a sessional paper.
Accordingly, J.R. Jayewardene, who was then a Cabinet Member and Minister of State, presented the “Voluntary National Youth Services Act No. 11 of 1967” to Parliament and established the National Youth Services Council. While presenting this bill to Parliament on April 7, 1967, Mr. Jayewardene said, “The Voluntary National Youth Services Act is for the establishment and implementation of a National Youth Services Council and related activities.” and he has concluded his speech by stating, “I request the Honorable Members of this House not to debate the clauses of this act. Every government needs to look at the way in which young people aged from 14 to 21 are connected to national life. This is the purpose of the NYSC Board, which carries out the above purpose. Therefore, the important and useful view points of the honorable members are taken into account, and the Youth Service Council may request them to think about them. At the moment, the main purpose of this bill is to establish the National Service Youth Council. It is a great pleasure to present this bill.” (Hansard)
This bill was passed with 51 members voting in favour and 12 against. Although the Minister of State presented the bill, the council was established under the head of government, the Prime Minister. Its first Chairman was D. M. P. B . Dassanayake, a senior officer in the Ceylon Civil Service ( who passed away recently). Anoja Fernando, Lilith Hewapathirana, Sam K. Kadiragamar and Lieutenant Colonel D. M. Athulathmudali were appointed as Council members. The inaugural meeting of the National Youth Services Council was held on October 11, 1968 at the Prime Minister’s office. The Council which was established on January 23, 1969 was published in the special gazette number 14837/6.
The first task initiated by the National Youth Services Council was to deploy the youth labour to the national development effort through the establishment of the National Service Programme. The objective of this programme was to develop and train youth in the respective areas and utilise their services for the national development effort. Even though the programmes were started on an islandwide basis, the National Youth Services Council had to operate the programs from the headquarters in Colombo. The National Youth Services Council was confined to a limited staff, making it difficult to carry out such extensive programmes. Therefore, it started using the officers in the area through the respective Assistant District Secretaries to implement the national service programme. Accordingly, the first programme was launched in April 1969 at Algama in Dedigama.
However, since the government that came into power in the 1970 after the general election, gave priority to food production programmes, rather than national service, the NYSC started establishing youth collective farms on the Soviet and Chinse model youth farm communities. Sirimapura, Eraminiyaaya, Walakumburumulla, Sunethra Govipala, and Chandrika Govipala were established under this programme. But, in the end, this programme was considered to be a campaign to attract youth for a political movement called “Jana Vegaya”. By 1977, this perception resulted in NYSC activities not being acceptable to the people.
The government which came to power in 1977 appointed Charitha Ratwatte as the chairman of the NYSC with a strong supporting board, operating under Prime Minister J. R. Jayewardene’s Ministry of Plan Implementation.
Due to the mass participation of young people in the new programmes of the NYSC, especially in the Youth Clubs set up at the village and community level, the then President Jayewardene appointed a separate Ministry for Youth Affairs and Employment. Accordingly, Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed as the first Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment in 1978. The NYSC became an institute with the powers of an Authority through the “National Youth Services Act” presented by him to parliament on November 8, 1979. It was effective from January 1, 1980.
The Ministry under the dynamic leadership of Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Deputy Minister Gamini Athukorale was taking quick actions to further reform the NYSC. Accordingly, district and provincial offices were established, the activities of the Council were devolved and programmes expanded. They included the national service, centre training, field training, community service, youth clubs, sports, special sports teams, cultural activities, special cultural groups, international youth exchanges, youth guidance, career guidance, youth rewards and training in new technology such as video technology, computing, staff training and development in many other fields. One of the most important tasks that took place during this period was the construction of the National Youth Centre in Maharagama -- a gift to Sri Lanka’s youth from the people of Japan.
Many members of youth clubs federated to the Sri Lanka Federation of Youth Clubs after their training programmes were recruited by private sector companies, military bands, dancing troupes and sports clubs. Overall, it created a lot of employment opportunities for our youth. There was a great demand for the young talented sportsmen and sportswomen who trained under NYC from the sports clubs of various institutions. The Youth Cultural Programme has produced a number of outstanding artistes in the field of dramas, acting and compering. International youth exchange programmes were initiated with a number of countries. Youth Club members were active in Yovun Pura, Gam Udawa and Maha Pola programmes.
Deputy Youth Affairs Minister Atukorale was deeply involved in the administration of the NYSC, since Mr. Wickremesinghe had been assigned the Ministry of Education in addition to his Youth and Employment portfolios. Mr. Atukorale was also an active participant in Youth Service activities. His untimely death was an immense loss to the youth of Sri Lanka in particular and Sri Lankans in general.
The Youth Corps Programme was relaunched in 2001 in line with the policy of training the youth for the National Development Service. Accordingly, the aim was to produce a disciplined youth with vocational training, as originally proposed by Brigadier Levy’s Committee. The programme is now in progress with 18 training centers. This was done on the experience of the previous “National Development Service”. The National Development Service trained youths and implemented programmes similar to the earlier Land Army. Accordingly, they were deployed in works such as canal excavation on the accelerated Mahaweli scheme and small irrigation tank rehabilitation.
Youth leadership cadres, who cut their teeth in their Youth Clubs and in the Divisional, District, Provincial and National activities of the Sri Lanka Federation of Youth Clubs, have today reached the pinnacle of leadership as Governors of Provinces, Chief Ministers, Ministers and members of Parliament, Provincial Councils and local councils. Several leading lights in the Armed Services, Police, the Administration, Business and civil society had their roots in the Youth Clubs.
As many people do not know the past history of the 50-year-old NYSC, I have, included some facts concerning the history of the National Youth Services Council. We hear that some people still erroneously say that the NYSC was started after 1977. Even though the activities of the NYSC have shown a decline due to not receiving sufficient budgetary funds, it can be described as an institution that can play a pivotal role in the development of the youth sector. After the Ministerial re shuffle in December 2018, the National Youth Services Council ( NYSC) came under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe; this will ensure a bright new future for the institution.
(The writer was an Assistant Director of the National Youth
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe meets the Ruhunu-Magampura youth
Youth at the Maharagama Youth Centre