As Sawa prepares to celebrate its Silver Jubilee, we talk to one of its earliest trainees. Jemal Salh is one of the renowned Eritrean artists, who made his ways to Sawa 25 years ago to become a member of the 1st round of national service trainees. At the graduation ceremony, he was one of the three trainees to take an oath representing their fellow graduates. He married the love of his life, Yordanos Abebe, who is also a 1st round trainee. Their two children continued the legacy of reading the oath at their 29th and 30th round graduation ceremonies.
Over the past 25 years, not only has Sawa become the place where all Eritreans from across the country get-together and exchange cultures and experiences, it has also become a place that has played a great role in shaping up the youth’s lives in so many ways.
Jemal talks to us about his memories and views of the place which many young Eritreans call their turning point in life.
- -First round of Sawa, expectations and veracity of the first timers
Every young Eritrean was excited about going to Sawa. I remember that when the announcement was made, every one volunteered to go and fulfill their duties of national service. Of course, some of them served under different institutions before and some of us didn’t, but we all went there and became the 1st round trainees for national service. On our way there, we had to rest at a place outside Barentu, which we all weren’t thrilled about. We just wanted to get there as soon as possible. You can just see how much excitement we all had to be there.
By the time we got there, the military trainers immediately started giving military orders with their military language and attitude, which was new to us and we couldn’t understand what they were telling us to do. Nevertheless, once we all settled, those trainers became our brothers and families. Sawa did more than just give us military training. We all got together, bonded and became a family. We all worked hard to do well in our training and this was something that made our trainers very happy. We even trained during our break.
Of course, there were many rumors going on before we went there. Some were meant to demotivate us and some were just simple rumors saying that many of us were disappointed to go without watching the world cup tournament. So some people told us that there was a big screen at Sawa and we could watch the games there, which was funny at the time. Because, all there was in Sawa was the tents.
The 1st round of trainees at Sawa included many artists, which was the reason we formed a cultural group representing our division. We did many shows of dramas and songs. The cultural troupe grew bigger to represent the whole camp, which gave a platform for many artists to blossom. All artists worked relentlessly to come up with entrainment programs which made us busier. Sometimes we lost track of time. After completing the military training, those of us who still didn’t do our national service were sent to various places such as Nakfa and Aligder. By the time we were graduating, our cultural group presented a show and our bus led the 1st round trainees back to Asmara.
- -Sawa 25 years back and now
As I said, it was a place just with tents. Some shades were made later by the trainees. Most of us were from Asmara, which meant the hot weather was sometimes unbearable. Besides, we went at a time when there were strong wind storms and heavy rains which made it even harder. We used to hold onto the poles of the tents to prevent them from getting blown away by the storms. This also meant we were being soaked in water. This is 25 years ago. It is unbelievable to see Sawa now, with one of the biggest schools in the country and the dormitories. It is not just a military training camp; it is a place that produces thousands of talented students besides making every individual grow mentally and physically.
Leaving your comfy coach and bed to live in a place with thousands of people from across the country teaches you to have the ability to communicate and work together. Just a simple example. I have a daughter who never used to have friends and could speak with many people. I was always worried about how she was going to handle going away to live with hundreds of people for a year. Now, after she has been in Sawa, she has completely changed. She became the kind of person who has the confidence to do anything in life. What makes me more proud is that both my kids have succeeded in their education as well. This is the kind of impact Sawa has on every young Eritrean.
- –Keeping the oath, taking tradition alive in the family
I was one of the three people who read and took the oath at our graduation ceremony. My friends told me that I made history that day, becoming one of the first three people to take the national service oath. They were right although I didn’t see it that way then. Interestingly, on the 29th round ceremony, my son was one of the students to read and take the oath which made it a historic moment. I didn’t get the chance to visit him during the ceremony but I watched it on TV, and it made me emotional. The same thing happened with my daughter on the 30th round graduation. The very shy daughter I am talking about was able to go in front of thousands of people and read and took the oath which I was there for. It makes me proud to see that my kids are doing what I did back when I was their age, and it brings back memories.