Maetot… A Youth Participatory Approach

Articles

Community service has become trendy this last decade for people willing to volunteer in countries of the so-called Global South. As expected, when doing a google search including words such as “community service”, the result first shows “volunteering in Africa”. Surely, this goes in line with the many living in the Global North engaging in any type of community services to places far from their home.

 

A way to help others, to try make a difference or perhaps to feel better about themselves. This seems to be accepted by many and especially NGOs and activist groups, however, when a country implements such a program of giving back to the community as part of its national development policies, it then becomes an issue, at least towards Eritrea. In fact, human rights groups will call it forced labor or slavery by human rights claimants towards Eritrea. By calling Eritrea’s community service and specifically its summer program “a mechanism of forced labor”, “a violation against the human rights of its people” or “a summer labor camps for children” as stated during the examination of Eritrea’s report at the Committee on the Rights of the Child at the Human Rights Council in May 2015; without question, there is a lack of understanding or willingness in allowing one country to follow its path of development through community-led approach. Notwithstanding that in many African countries, community service seems to be reserved to Western youngsters coming to volunteer during their study break by paying thousands of dollars to NGOs while very few places in the continent are slowly looking at communities as being agents of development.

Eritrea does not believe in such NGO type of community service, in the contrary, engaging its people and creating a sense of ownership for the well-being of the collective is the drive behind Eritrea’s community service, well-known as matot, a summer program to young students enrolled in 9th and 10th grade of high school. Involving the community in development projects goes in line with the vision and principles enacted within the 1994 National Charter stipulating that “without public participation, there cannot be development; it is vital for people to participate at all stages of development projects” (National Charter, 1994). Thus, the summer program was implemented in 1994 aiming at reconstructing a war-torn country, by including the community in cleaning the environment, afforestation, terracing and reverse the critical environmental situation, with only 1% of thick forest coverage countrywide as well as water and soil conservation activities. This immense project was possible through matot with a first phase focusing on reconstruction and protecting the environment through afforestation, construction of micro-dams to rural areas and renovating roads.

Matot summer work program isn’t a form of camps or child labor as some may misinterpret it. Instead, it consists of a mandatory program of one-month duration during summer break. Students will engage in communal services, usually every morning in areas close to their home. Many have probably seen some of them, this past July, either cleaning parks in Asmara or wearing the yellow traffic jacket’s while helping dwellers crossing the roads in the middle of the city and forcing drivers to stop by the sound of their whistle blowing.

More than twenty years later of yearly maetot, each summer, thousands of youngsters engage themselves in such activities under the supervision of their teachers and establishment of matot committees including community leaders, members of the Ministry of Education, Agriculture and its Water Resources and Land Department. Organizing such programs nationwide requires strong organizational structure as well as communication among all stakeholders without failing to recall the engagement in terms of health check to all students prior the commencement of and throughout the program. Each year the committee of this communal service is organized into regions and sub-regions by engaging all schools as well as vocational schools. Through preliminary studies and evaluation of the needs of the community by engaging local leaders as well as concerned ministries help to make maetot an effective and efficient program in line with the nation’s development strategy. As a matter of fact, through matot, thousands of km have been covered in terracing hills and mountains, thousands of trees have been planted and schools and hospitals have been restored.

After a heavy rainy season during this year’s maetot, this past month representatives of Ministries of Agriculture and Education and committee members from all six regions gathered together to assess this year’s summer work program in comparison with previous years. Hence, this year, about 22,899 students have participated in this summer program in their respective region. This year the Anseba region has recorded the highest number of participants with 7000 compared to 5334 in 2015. Central region is second in terms of participation with 6649 in 2016 and 5909 registered last year. The Southern region is third, with 4762 students participating compared to 3884 a year ago. The region of Gash Barka, on its side, had 2242 participants while the Northern Red Sea region engaged 1693 students in the program and the Southern Red Sea recorded 283. The latter region, although in smaller number, is showing a stable increase each year. In other words, the region has recorded about 242 students in 2014 and 265 in 2015. Technical schools also took part with about 270 dispatched between Asmara, Keren, Massawa, Dembesko and Dekemhare. Students from technical schools made impressive outcomes of the summer program this year. To strengthen this, about 11,100 school furniture’s were renovated, non-functional sanitation system were restored, and old schools were also given a young touch through their paintings. This promising amount of students participating each year is promising in keeping the momentum and the cultural values of collectivism and giving back to the community to younger generations.

Activities varied between, schools renovation, helping at the hospitals and its surroundings in cleaning, spending time with people living with disabilities, renovating sport playgrounds, planting trees, renovating water points and road safety. To give a glimpse of the impact of this year’s maetot, about 555,000 tree seedling were planted this year, about 1,300 km of terracing, 150 Maetot… A Youth Participatory Approach Community service has become trendy this last decade for people willing to volunteer in countries of the so-called Global South. As expected, when doing a google search including words such as “community service”, the result first shows “volunteering in Africa”. Surely, this goes in line with the many living in the Global North engaging in any type of community services to places far from their home. A way to help others, to try make a difference or perhaps to feel better about themselves. This seems to be accepted by many and especially NGOs and activist groups, however, when a country implements such a program of giving back to the community as part of its national development policies, it then becomes an issue, at least towards Eritrea. In fact, human rights groups will call it forced labor or slavery by human rights claimants towards Eritrea. By calling Eritrea’s community service and specifically its summer program “a mechanism of forced labor”, “a violation against the human rights of its people” or “a summer labor camps for children” as stated during the examination of Eritrea’s report at the Committee on the Rights of the Child at the Human Rights Council in May 2015; without question, there is a lack of understanding or willingness in allowing one country to follow its path of development through community-led approach. Notwithstanding that in many African countries, community service seems to be reserved to Western youngsters coming to volunteer during their study break by paying thousands of dollars to NGOs while very few places in the continent are slowly looking at communities as being agents of development.

Eritrea does not believe in such NGO type of community service, in the contrary, engaging its people and creating a sense of ownership for the well-being of the collective is the drive behind Eritrea’s community service, well-known as matot, a summer program to young students enrolled in 9th and 10th grade of high school. Involving the community in development projects goes in line with the vision and principles enacted within the 1994 National Charter stipulating that “without public participation, there cannot be development; it is vital for people to participate at all stages of development projects” (National Charter, 1994). Thus, the summer program was implemented in 1994 aiming at reconstructing a war-torn country, by including the community in cleaning the environment, afforestation, terracing and reverse the critical environmental situation, with only 1% of thick forest coverage countrywide as well as water and soil conservation activities. This immense project was possible through matot with a first phase focusing on reconstruction and protecting the environment through afforestation, construction of micro-dams to rural areas and renovating roads.

Matot summer work program isn’t a form of camps or child labor as some may misinterpret it. Instead, it consists of a mandatory program of one-month duration during summer break. Students will engage in communal services, usually every morning in areas close to their home. Many have probably seen some of them, this past July, either cleaning parks in Asmara or wearing the yellow traffic jacket’s while helping dwellers crossing the roads in the middle of the city and forcing drivers to stop by the sound of their whistle blowing.
More than twenty years later of yearly maetot, each summer, thousands of youngsters engage themselves in such activities under the supervision of their teachers and establishment of matot committees including community leaders, members of the Ministry of Education, Agriculture and its Water Resources and Land Department. Organizing such programs nationwide requires strong organizational structure as well as communication among all stakeholders without failing to recall the engagement in terms of health check to all students prior the commencement of and throughout the program. Each year the committee of this communal service is organized into regions and sub-regions by engaging all schools as well as vocational schools. Through preliminary studies and evaluation of the needs of the community by engaging local leaders as well as concerned ministries help to make maetot an effective and efficient program in line with the nation’s development strategy. As a matter of fact, through matot, thousands of km have been covered in terracing hills and mountains, thousands of trees have been planted and schools and hospitals have been restored.

After a heavy rainy season during this year’s maetot, this past month representatives of Ministries of Agriculture and Education and committee members from all six regions gathered together to assess this year’s summer work program in comparison with previous years. Hence, this year, about 22,899 students have participated in this summer program in their respective region. This year the Anseba region has recorded the highest number of participants with 7000 compared to 5334 in 2015. Central region is second in terms of participation with 6649 in 2016 and 5909 registered last year. The Southern region is third, with 4762 students participating compared to 3884 a year ago. The region of Gash Barka, on its side, had 2242 participants while the Northern Red Sea region engaged 1693 students in the program and the Southern Red Sea recorded 283. The latter region, although in smaller number, is showing a stable increase each year. In other words, the region has recorded about 242 students in 2014 and 265 in 2015. Technical schools also took part with about 270 dispatched between Asmara, Keren, Massawa, Dembesko and Dekemhare. Students from technical schools made impressive outcomes of the summer program this year. To strengthen this, about 11,100 school furniture’s were renovated, non-functional sanitation system were restored, and old schools were also given a young touch through their paintings. This promising amount of students participating each year is promising in keeping the momentum and the cultural values of collectivism and giving back to the community to younger generations.

Activities varied between, schools renovation, helping at the hospitals and its surroundings in cleaning, spending time with people living with disabilities, renovating sport playgrounds, planting trees, renovating water points and road safety. To give a glimpse of the impact of this year’s maetot, about 555,000 tree seedling were planted this year, about 1,300 km of terracing, 150 to community-based approach towards development starts to be acknowledge by policy makers as well as development agencies. The Rwandan community work known as umuganda can be defined as “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome” (Rwandapedia 2016). This community work was implemented as part of the work to reconstruct the country and create a sense of national harmony among its people. In doing so, the community work takes place the last Saturday of each month and includes the population aged between 18 and 65.

Similar to Eritrea, the work includes renovating and building schools, medical centers, and rehabilitation of agricultural land among others. South Africa also has a system of community work known as the South African Community Work Programme (CWP). Other countries in the West such as Switzerland has a system of national service either military or civil. The latter one will consist of engaging citizens for an 18- months period in communal services such as working with elders in a geriatric home, cleaning the environment in various public event or working with the disabled among others. South Korea also has such community work known as the Samuel Undong aiming at continuing to make its citizens responsible and committed to their community.

Eritrea’s path towards development is drawn on its own characteristics and context influenced by the idea of a development by the people for the people. With this in mind, the country has effectively evaluated the strength of its people emanating from the time of the independence struggle where all layers of society were engaged for the Eritrean cause. As such, it was only logical to pursue similar approach at independence with the sole priority of bringing about sustainable development for generations to come. Surely, it’s not an easy task taking into consideration the multiple external and internal challenges, one of them being changes in cultural values. Indeed, as culture is the backbone of Eritrea, it has become primordial to preserve its positive side such as what we call ‘haliot’ or this sense of helping each other, wanting the good to others. Hence, this cultural wealth of living as a community needs to be pass onto generations to ensure national harmony. Accordingly, maetot, this summer work program does not only contribute to the development of the country and the restoration of its environment but it also gives these teenagers a sense of civic responsibility as citizens, the values of work and disciplines but more importantly, resilience, tolerance and living in community. As such, while maetot continues to play a key role, ensuring and attracting youth to contribute actively and increase the amount of participation will be a challenge to overcome and safeguarding the continuity of their inherited collective values.

Last Updated (Friday, 02 December 2016 10:40)