Thursday July the 14th, the sun finally rises upon the land of youth, Sawa. The long, tiring journey west was covered by clouds the entire way and the land is wet, thanks to summer showers. Remarkably, I experienced a matching climate from the capital city to our destination almost 300kms away. As you read this article, save a though for the author as you did not have to face the swarms of pesky mosquitoes that welcomed me upon the night I arrived.
The next day, before the sun shines, journalists, reporters, and cameramen head to the Sawa stage to prepare for the official ceremony of the 29th round graduates who have been engaged in their national service for the past year. We are ten minutes away from the start of the ceremony, yet dozens of guests are still arriving and taking their seats. Daybreak is imminent. Along with some of my colleagues, I sit on the edge of the stage as guests file in and take their seats. Our location is beneficial as it allows us to observe the day’s programs unobstructed. The Diaspora sport their stylish lowcut clothing and locals wear their shimmering cultural outfits, collectively packing the seating area from top to bottom. The organizing committee hurriedly assign people to their seats as anticipation builds. Now it is almost six o’clock and I can see everything above the ground. The 29th round are organized to form different shapes on the left hand side and their marching reflects the training of weeks gone by. The specially trained wait near the stage to deliver a greeting to the President of the State of Eritrea. Cultural and art troupes are colorfully and beautifully arranged, and they proudly wave the flags in their hands. Technicians and reporters make final adjustments with their live transmissions only minutes away. The dormitory lights are off and nature unfolds its glorious lights over cloudy skies, and the awe-inspiring chain of mountains surround the scene. Finally, the announcer informs guests to take their seats quickly so the program can begin! The marching band in their red suits and their instruments finished lining up to go with the marching show. Security forces are duly fulfilling their mandate. Now it is exactly 6:30am and the President has arrived. In unison, the crowd stands and claps approvingly. There is then silence before a strong female voice orders the specially trained soldiers to greet the President and head to the front to lead the 29th round marching show. Once again, the crowd stands to have a clear view of the spectacularly designed show. The announcer praises the youth and the Eritrean society, noting their resilience and overall achievements. The marching blocks, progressing one by one, greet the honored guests and authorities.
The artwork which has been prepared for the event is now presented by individuals and groups from across the nation. A couple of artists are singing about Sawa. A fascinating scene was performed by the marching blocks in the field; the show explains the strength and unity of the Eritrean society and government against various challenges. The Head of the Center of Training, Colonel Debessay Ghide, gives the opening speech about the festival and a briefing regarding the 29th round graduates. Around 14,000 students came to Sawa, established 22 years ago, with about forty-eight percent being females. Impressively, 95% made it to the last day of graduation. He further congratulates the graduates for being the fruits of Sawa and demanded that the students contribute, participate, and do their best for their nation in upcoming times. Salih Ahmedin, the chairman of the NUEYS, informs the audience that the event is a moment where promises are kept and enhanced. Artwork follows with cultural crews performing. The specific scene of the young crews showcases development and art, while an informative and comic drama delights the audience.
Medal prizes are awarded to successful students and trainees by the head of staff of the Eritrean Defense Force, General Filipos W/ Yohannes, and exceptional trainees, units, and sergeants receive awards and medals from the President. The events of the morning were concluded by the pledges of the 29th round to fulfill societal and national demands, and formally opened the 7th annual youth festival that extends for three days.
During the 7th youth festival, I came to meet some Finnish people who were visiting for several days. Mr. Joel Linnainmaki, from the National Youth Council of Finland, stated that youth play a positive role in any society and he hoped to partner and engage with with Eritrean youth groups moving forward. Mr. Otto Ahoniemi, from the Finnish Union of National Conscripts, noted that the Eritrean people were very welcoming. He also expressed admiration with the youth festival’s activities and suggested that he looked forward to collaborating with Eritrean organizations in the future. Mr. Otto also stated that it is hard to find real accurate information about Eritrea from the western media, and instead it was better to see it the country with one’s own eyes. Another visitor from Finland, Ms. Silja Markkula, echoed these sentiments, suggesting that it was quite controversial to make expectations about Eritrea because of controversial information. Collectively, the visitors wished to continue engagement with Eritrea, especially in terms of education and the youth, and they all look forward to seeing the country once again.
The youth festival is a reflection of the valuable resources of the country. Innovative and talented individuals continuously prove that they can create and individualize their own special work. One of the projects capturing everyone’s attention was from Mechanical Engineering fifth-year students based at Mai Nefhi who developed an aerial roadway. Their work received first prize and a large grant. Reese George, speaking on behalf of the group, stated that the innovation was initiated to introduce the old aerial roadway into the nation and to prove to their people that it can be built in any area. The hope is that the project’s infrastructure will be placed in Gedem near the nearby cement factory, and research suggests that the wagon has an approximate carrying capacity of 3.2 tones and can transport 10 to 15 tons per day.
The closing ceremony of the 7th youth festival was also interesting and entertaining. Everyone who made it to Sawa enjoyed the last day. People filled the seats from the late afternoon until sunset. The excitement was palpable and the audience often enthusiastically clapped during each song played. After the usual minute of silence to remember the fallen heroes, the program launched with a Tigrinya youth song titled, “Yesmrelna.” Members of the Diaspora in attendance pay attention to the lyrics because words are one way to describe the achievements and reality of the Eritrean youth. A couple of other songs in various languages songs follow, before the chairman of the 7th youth festival committee delivers a short report of the three days. Mr. Osman Abdelkadir notes that the festival was an opportunity to exhibit the talent, creativity and innovation skills of the youth and he thanked all parties who contributed to make the festival a success. Additionally, prizes and awards were given to participants who ranked highly in various activities, such as education, sport, culture, literature, art, presentations, and much more. Events were capped with a bright night. A full moon was in the sky and stage lights added to the occasion, before loud, spectacular fireworks closed the show!