We need a National Service system!


My wife is a doctor. She chose to participate in teaching seminars for a week at a new medicine college in Qunfudah, a small town 334 km south of Jeddah.

“I feel like I’m on a Peace Corps mission. The place is quiet, small and boring. However, most students are highly motivated, and everything here - buildings and equipment - seems so new and fresh,” she said. “I feel sorry for the female students, though, because they have to be taught every week by new teachers and trainers.

“No one agrees to stay here permanently, even those who are originally from here. Once you get used to city life, you find it hard to live in the countryside. If you accept to do so, your children may not. And if you leave them in Jeddah and visit every weekend, you would soon be worn out,” she added.

“Until there is faster and more convenient public transportation, such as railways, you’ll have to drive on a dangerous road that has one of the highest fatal accident rates in the country, due to camel and animal crossings. Amazingly, the Transport Ministry has failed so far to block off the road sides after decades of tragedies,” she said.

The solution she suggests is civil conscription. Conscription in many parts of the world is a dreadful word. It means young men are taken away from their loved ones to serve in the army for years. It disturbs their work and family plans and forces them into a tougher, undesirable life.

Therefore, we need another name, another approach. Instead of “conscription” with the implication that it is enforced, we should call it National Service.

We need help in many areas, such as medical, community, police and civil defense services, particularly in remote areas. We could include young women, too. They have proved to be patriotic, caring and helpful. When there was a need for volunteer help, like during the Jeddah floods, they were the first to answer the call and were the best at it.

To make it more useful and flexible, I suggest the following system:

National Service should start in high school and extend between the ages of 18-35. The total time required is two years. Students may choose summer holidays for training and service. By the time they finish university, young people should have accumulated the required years. If not, they can top it up after graduation. They may also choose the fields that best suit their studies and talents.

The goal is to train our youth in ethics, principles, discipline, teamwork and useful skills. Like scouts, they would serve their communities and the guests of the Most Compassionate, during the Haj and Umrah seasons. This would open the door for teenagers and adults to develop their talents and use them in the service of their nation and people.

Young women and high school students would not have to stay away from home. We could accommodate those with physical or family needs by assigning them to positions in their districts or by giving them home assignments.

At later stages, those who are most suited may join the armed forces as enlisted men or reservists. Others may find their calling in civic institutions.

It should be a paid job. There should be some financial rewards - enough to make those involved feel appreciated and to cover personal expenses. It would also be a great training opportunity for our youth, in all fields of interest. For many, there would be travel and exploring opportunities to discover the treasures of their country, and to meet peers from other regions and make new friends.

We are a young society. Our population is mostly under 35, with 70 percent under the age of 30, that is a total of 15 million people. They are well educated, but need training and practical experience. Many engage in sports and exercise, but a majority of them need supervised developmental physical training.

Young women in particular need opportunities for training, caring and giving. We need them, too, in hospitals, schools, community centers, and many other venues. They are the better half of our population and it is a waste of human resources not to make the most and best of what they have to offer.

So, instead of looking (or begging) for permanent staff in colleges like the Qunfudah Medical School, we could make working there, and in other remote areas, a national service for graduates. In addition, new doctors and professionals should work in smaller towns for a few years, before they can be transferred to areas of their choice. Such a system has worked well with teachers, so why not other professions?

It is not for the best that our population is concentrated in cities, where all the services and fun are. It is not fair for those in small and remote areas to be deprived of similar privileges. A National Service system could be the answer!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi