“Going to Sawa is less of a choice and more of an obligation,” Heaven Tesfamariam-Bereketeab

I once read: “Those who have never had to fight for freedom will not fight to keep it.” As a daughter of a member of the First Round of the National Service and the granddaughter of HafashWedebat (a term used to describe those who were recruited by the EPLF fighters to fight behind enemy lines), I grew up hearing first-hand accounts of what it took to be independent.

I was born in 1997 and I was too young to remember the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia, even though both of my parents and many of my extended family members took part. I have never had to experience living in fear of war because my family fought to make sure that I never had to go through what they had faced. Hearing their accounts of war and its pain, indeed, made me committed to be willing to serve the land they sacrificed so much for.

While I was young, my grandfather used to tell me stories of his role in Eritrea’s liberation struggle; how he was arrested and tortured by the Derg (the last Ethiopian colonial regime to Eritrea) more than once. He never gave-up; because he wanted to see his children and grandchildren grow-up in free and peaceful Eritrea.

I heard the story of why my mother utters the words “TsigaHaftay!” every time something unexpected happens. They are the first words to come out of her mouth since the time she saw her cousin being killed by an enemy landmine; there was nothing she could do to stop it. My mother’s and grandfather’s contributions to our history instilled in me a strong need to serve my country. So when my grandfather died in 2015, I knew the best way to honor his memory was to come to Eritrea and complete my national service – after I graduated from college.

I was asked by some people how I decided to come to what they perceive as ‘hard decision’ to go to Sawa. For me, that decision wasn’t difficult at all; it was less of a choice and more of an obligation. Every year nearly 20,000 Eritrean youth go to Sawa to complete their secondary school education and eventually serve their nation to the best of their ability. Those who score good marks at the matriculation – secondary school leaving examination – they join the various colleges or vocational training institutions established in different parts of the country as part of the Government’s policy of distributing social service rendering institutions across the country.

In Eritrea, Education, at all levels, is for free. Many youth, who couldn’t have been able to afford basic school expenses, can learn medical doctorate, law, engineering, etc. for free. Health service is for free as well…

Eritrean youths actively participate in the nation building endeavors; as a proud Eritrean it is my duty to serve to the best of my ability. I need to underline that for me making the decision to come to Eritrea is nothing special; just like voting in elections and serving on jury duty is in the United States. National Service in Eritrea is our civic duty; many Eritreans from the diaspora have already taken part in similar activities.

Some young people living in the diaspora may think that they are not prepared to come to Sawa. Being raised up in the Diaspora may not help you to meet the challenges you encounter in Sawa. For me it was the right decision because I knew that Sawa was the way to honor my family’s legacy. So, I can say that I’ve been preparing myself for years before I went to Sawa. However, for those of us who come from the Diaspora, serving your country doesn’t mean only going to Sawa for military training. Many youth came to Eritrea for summer service or volunteer for some time in different areas they could contribute. On their way, many of them learned more about their country and people.

Still there are rumors about the national service and Sawa. A number of Eritrean youth continued to fight the false narratives and work hard to depict the real image. The important thing is, for me, to come and witness the reality by yourself; that you contribute to your country’s progress in one way or another.

Our parents and grandparents fought for years so that we can grow-up in a free and modern nation. Therefore, without the threat of war looming over our heads, being free and educated, it is our job to help our nation grow and develop to meet the sacrifice paid for our wellbeing.

To conclude, I would like to thank my mother Tighisty Bereketeab and my grandfather Bereketeab Misghina for teaching me the meaning of patriotism and instilling in me a love for my country and people.

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