I joined (willingly) the much maligned (and unfairly so) Guyana National Service at age 18 to fulfill part of the admission requirement for acceptance to the University of Guyana. At the time I had no ideological, political, patriotic, or nationalistic leanings, but was simply a teenager seeking to find my way after getting involved with the wrong crowd. I had intended to do the three-month stint, but my father's death made me decide on staying on for another year in the Pioneer Corp since I would be guaranteed three square meals a day and not have to be burdened with the responsibility of taking care of my siblings. What I did not expect was that GNS would end up preparing me for the responsibility from which I had sought escape. My tenure in the Service also taught me some other valuable lessons and skills and presented me with an overall experience that has shaped who I am today. And for that I will be forever grateful.
The defining experience for me, by far, during that year in GNS was participating (with four other young men - Douglas, Baboolall, Kenneth, and Aubrey) in building a giant cooling system for an equally giant generator that was intended to provide power for the Kimbia Training Center on the Upper Berbice River. We spent several weeks on that project working day and night under the able direction of the project supervisor, often spending countless sleepless nights welding and fitting together huge pipes, including many frustrating sessions correcting mistakes made attempting to put things together. We learned what it meant to work as a team and how to use our individual strengths to enhance our team effort. We developed resilience, tenacity, and self-confidence in the face of difficulty. We cultivated a solid work ethic. We became adept at plumbing and welding. And we grew to appreciate the bonds of friendship. Imagine our pride when the project was eventually completed.
The Guyana National Service no longer exists, as each successive administration following that of President Burnham's had, for whatever reason, redefined its purpose or had questioned its existence entirely. But one thing is sure, and that is its undeniably profound impact on my life. Just over a year before that unforgettable Passing Out Parade in which I stood with my fellow Pioneers, I had stood before a judge having pled guilty to vandalizing a public telephone booth. But now here I was, standing proudly before our country's then President, Linden Forbes Burnham, receiving his handshake and receiving from him my certificate of completion of a year of outstanding service to my country. As I said above, at that time I could care less about party politics, ideological persuasions, or nationalistic inclinations. What mattered was the wonderfully transformative experience I had as a Pioneer in the Guyana National Service.