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Sawa at 33

Two years ago President Isaias Afwerki announced he was going on an official visit to neighboring Ethiopia, his very first visit in almost 25 years following the rapprochement with Ethiopia. What made the announcement significant was that the President chose to make it in Sawa at the graduation ceremony of the 31st round of trainees. His message was greeted with jubilation from the crowd.

Fast forward two years and the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, visited Sawa and its environs during a two-day working visit to Eritrea, becoming the first ever leader to visit Sawa.

Sawa occupies a central place among Eritrean families. It is serving as a melting pot for Eritrea’s nine ethnic groups. It is a reminder of how much responsibility the place bears. Since its inception it has produced a formidable defense force, remarkable students and diligent working people.

Eritrea believes that at the heart of development is the role of the youth in shaping the future. Young people have a role in engaging people at the grassroots level and a role in communicating the goals to a wider society. To do this well they need structured mechanisms for participation in decision-making, especially in areas that have a clear impact on young people. That is where Sawa comes in.

Sawa was established in 1994 following the declaration of the National Service to play a leading role in developing the skills of the youth and initiate on-the-job training to enhance human resources and build the capacity required to achieve sustainable and holistic development. The reform of the education system in 2003 reinforced this policy by introducing a modern and effective teaching and learning methodology that is student-centered and designed to stimulate students’ active participation and promote teacher-student interaction.

The final year of secondary school education at 12th grade has been conducted in Sawa’s Warsay- Yikaalo Secondary School since 2003. Here, students from all over the country live under one-roof and are given equal opportunities of education, free of charge. At the end of the academic year, they all sit for their final national school leaving examination and those who pass join one of the eight colleges spread all over the country. For instance, 30% and 37% of the students who took their national examination in 2008 and 2009 respectively joined these colleges. Those who scored below-average grades were given technical and vocational training courses in Sawa to help them acquire skills that are desperately needed in the nation building endeavors. By 2010, a total of 80,000 students had taken their national examination at Sawa’s Warsay-Yikaalo Secondary School.

Sawa produces academically and militarily competent young men and women responsible for the development and security of the country. To date, 33 rounds of young Eritreans have graduated from Sawa.

In a country with a close-knit society, Sawa is a perfect place for the youth. For the youth of Eritrea, going to Sawa is a rite of passage. It is a year when each participant gets to reflect, get a sense of belongings outside of one’s family. For that twelve month, your family is those you meet in Sawa.

The first in my family, I was part of the 22nd round. Since then four of my siblings have gone to Sawa. We are about to send our fifth sibling next year. For me personally, my stay in Sawa was one of the best experiences of my life.

To this day I still keep in touch with everyone I met there — students, teachers and trainers. Now, whenever I travel outside Asmara to visit other towns of the country, I have someone I met in Sawa to contact.

A friend of mine who aptly calls graduates of Sawa ‘Sawa man’ and ‘Sawa woman’ once said these formidable young citizens have set in motion events that still sustain the Eritrean society in many ways. If you go to a clinic, a Sawa man or woman is there; if you go to schools, trenches, development project areas, cultural show centers, research centers in Eritrea, you see millions of Sawa men and women who are in charge of their own futures.

I would like to end by saying congratulations to the current round of graduates for successfully completing their 12th grade education and military training.

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