There are two words which are poignantly ignored but matter a lot in the socio-economic development of a country—patriotism and volunteerism. These two are usually ignored in the manifestos of many political parties. With a generation that is money-motivated, it is difficult for one to convince the masses about the benefits of patriotism and volunteerism.
Fifty years since Malawi gained its independence from Britain, the spirit of patriotism and volunteerism has been drifting away from us as Malawians. The question is who is responsible? The answer is everybody but leaders gets a big chunk of the blame. From generation to generation, we have all contributed to the downfall of the spirit of selflessly serving the nation without expecting personal gains.
Firstly, let us look at patriotism. The Wikipedia describes it as the general cultural attachment to one’s homeland or devotion to one’s country. The true meaning of patriotism is not just waving of the flag of your homeland. It is not just blind trust in anything that our leaders tell us nor casting of a vote during elections. It is fighting for national benefit while putting aside personal interests.
I bet if we had had patriotic civil servants, we could have saved billions of kwacha lost through Cashgate. Democracy leadership has ignored the importance of instilling the spirit of patriotism in nationals. We have raised a generation that only thinks about money, after all patriotism does not pay bills. Does it? But who suffers in the end? The country faces drug shortages, rampant blackouts, security threats, dwindling education standards, to mention but a few. What has failed to build this mentality in our young generation is nothing but the appetite to get rich quickly, coupled with a lack of political will.
Secondly, let us look at volunteerism. This is generally considered as an altruistic activity and is intended to improve human quality of life. There is no financial gain involved for the individual. During my involvement with the Lattitude Global Volunteering over the past year, I have discovered that in Malawi there are many youths who are willing to offer voluntary services, but there are no proper structures to help them fully fulfill their desire. This is manifested by many emails I get from young people asking about volunteering with the organisation in the country.
What has been ignored mostly is the benefits that volunteerism can have on the socio-economic development of the nation. Not only will it have a great impact on national development but also help in capacity building in young minds. In a country where unemployment levels are very high, one could easily argue that this could be another way of providing jobs in the sense of building skills of the youth as they prepare for careers of their choice.
Volunteerism can help young people to reach out to the community, learn new skills and even advance a career. There is also an opportunity to increase self-confidence, especially in a country where prospective employers ask for five years’ experience from a fresh graduate. Since the introduction of multiparty democracy, Malawi has lost many youths to bad behaviours such as excessive drinking or indulging in premarital sex. The reason is that most young people have nothing to do after school. Giving them something to do, even if it does not have a penny attached to it, can in return produce a feeling of self-worth or respect.
Yes, a lot has to be done to boost socio-economic development of this country. But patriotism and volunteerism should not be ignored as part of youth development. We are fast approaching the election months and the youth constitute a big chunk of the country’s population. The onus is on the aspiring leaders to convince these young people that there is something in store for them. Devising policies that can help to invest in this generation will be a great investment for the nation. Malawi needs selfless leaders who are ready to be servants of the nation. Vote wisely.
—The author is a young Malawian based in Chilumba, Karonga.