Trac­ing NYSC’s fifty-year am­bi­tious jour­ney in em­pow­er­ing Lanka’s youth

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT/NEWS - By Wi­jerathna Athu­ru­pana

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

Ser­vice Coun­cil.)

Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe meets the Ruhunu-Magam­pura youth

Youth at the Ma­haragama Youth Cen­tre

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