Something I find very interesting about this country is that despite it’s challenges, difficulties, and struggles, there is an institution in place called civil service that seems to work very well and be well respected. Anyone who attends a university or polytechnic university in this country must perform a compulsory year of civil service for the federal government upon completion of their education. The National Youth Service Corps sends youths to a place usually quite distant from where they grew up to experience other cultures and help those in need. Civil service can range from helping out in a local government office to building infrastructure. All NYSC participants are required to attend three to four weeks of training prior to beginning their work. They are then sent to their destination (usually unknown to them until about two weeks before departure) to begin work. They are given a very small stipend for living expenses, and must manage an extremely limited budget for the year to feed themselves, etc. Civil Service work is not easy-days usually begin around 5AM and last until the evening. NYSC resembles the armed forces in a way as members are required to wear uniforms and are frequently lined up in military-style rows. I can imagine the national response to an introduction of a civil service requirement in the United States-reactions would range from outrage due to lack of freedom, to servitude, to a waste of government spending. Although you could make the argument that this Americanized argument would be justified, I find it incredible that citizens of Nigeria willingly complete their civil service requirement with pride, despite the fact that the government situation in Nigeria has completely tired and exhausted many of its citizens and left the country abandon with little glory.
Nicholas Kristof, a writer I really respect summed up what I’ve been trying to say in a different way in his most recent book Half The Sky: “But to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it-and it’s impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it. You need to see it first hand, even live in its midst. One of the great failings of the American education system, in our view, is that young people can graduate from university without any understanding of poverty at home or abroad. Study-abroad programs tend to consist of herds of students visiting Oxford or Florence or Paris. We believe that universities should make it a requirement that all graduates spend at least some time in the developing world, either by taking a “gap year” or by studying abroad. If more Americans worked for a summer teaching English at a school like Mukhtar’s in Pakistan, or working at a hospital like HEAL Africa in Congo, our entire society would have a richer understanding of the world around us. And the rest of the world might also hold a more positive view of Americans.” -Kristof, Half the Sky p. 88