Heven Tesfamariam from Seattle, USA, and Mussie Ghirmai from Sweden are members of the 33rd round of national service. They both came to Eritrea to go to Sawa to participate in the national service program. After taking military training in Sawa they graduated on 15 August along with the other members of the 33rd round. The two expatriate Eritreans have shared their experiences in and views about Sawa. Excerpts follow:
- What is your impression of Eritrea, in general, and Sawa, in particularly?
Eritrea is beautiful. Every time I come here I get a feeling of peace and serenity of being at home and I feel the same way about Sawa. In Sawa you meet so many people from all ethnic groups that come from different regions of the country.
- What inspired you to be a member of the national service program?
The main purpose of coming to Sawa is the military training. I think it is a national duty to come and serve our country. Our younger brothers and sisters are coming to Sawa and spending the whole year here. It is very easy for us to stay for a couple of months. It is really important to come here and be alongside them and be active in everything.
A conversation I had with my sister and the background information I learned about Eritrea and our identity from YPFDJ in Sweden inspired me to come here.
- Please, share with us what you witnessed here, in Sawa?
The best thing about Sawa is that it is a school; it teaches you a lot. It enables you to meet in one place people from all the nine ethnic groups. Everybody speaks so many different languages. The traditions we have and everything else is amazing. In short, Sawa is an educational place. I would say the biggest thing you can gain from Sawa is the relationships you make with people and what you learn about their traditions.
- As someone who lives abroad, how do you maintain attachment with the homeland?
We have community centers that allow us to be in touch with other Eritreans. When you see that racism and discrimination are prevalent in places like the United States, you want to be with your own people. It is nice to have a place like the community center where all Eritreans come together and learn the culture, tradition and languages of Eritrea. This is instrumental for us to keep in touch with our country.
Every year, I come to Eritrea for summer vacation and I personally experience the culture and tradition. That is how I maintain the attachment. I have never been detached from my country.
- What did you gain from your stay in Sawa?
Being in Sawa definitely makes you a much stronger person. Above all you learn how to get through life, how to be a strong person and how to be optimistic. It really teaches you nothing is impossible. It teaches you that you can move forward.
I learned a lot. It is not only about the nine ethnic groups. Sawa is now built as a city. I am really impressed to see this. It is really appealing to me to see development activities being carried out. I’ve learned so many things during my stay in Sawa. Living in Sawa you do not only learn different languages but different lifestyles of all ethnic groups.
- Have you seen any difference between what you imagined and what you witnessed?
I see a big difference. The false propaganda being spread about Sawa is among the biggest topics. Sawa is being referred to as a horrible place where there is nothing good. But, when you come here, you see everything is beautiful. Living with one hundred different people with different personalities and characters teaches you a lot. It teaches you how to be independent and how to be able to stand up for yourself, and it gives you confidence. These are not the things you hear when you are abroad. All you hear is the negative things. But there are a lot of good things here.
What I heard and what I witnessed are quite opposite. You always find information filled with lies and rumors. On the other hand you find truth, facts and reality. Being a diaspora for years makes you learn how to navigate through lies and fabrications. You then easily find the truth. You also find people who personally experienced the reality in Eritrea and this way you get the true image of Sawa before you come here.
- How do you feel about the mutual co-existence of the different ethnic groups?
It is really amazing. One of the many things we saw in Sawa was the way Easter and Eid were celebrated. Both times we all came together and decorated the buildings. Everybody came with entertaining programs. It was really beautiful to see Christians and Muslims come together and celebrate Easter and Eid together.
- What would you like to say to fellow Eritreans about your experience in Sawa?
We have to separate the lies from the truth. Now, I have a lot of information and experience. I am sharing not only the real image of Sawa but I am also sharing what I feel and think about it.
- Any message you would like to convey at last?
I just want to say we are the ones who can develop our nation. As young people it is important for us to stand united so that we can continue to build our nation.
I would like to tell Eritreans living abroad to come to Sawa. There is nothing bad or tough here. Everybody experiences it differently and there is nothing that cannot be accomplished in Sawa. Everybody needs to come to Sawa and to personally experience everything. It is the most important learning experience you will have academically, and you will also have life experience. It is a perfect place to build strength and endurance. I will definitely send my kids to Sawa. Sawa enables you to be self-reliant. What I would like to tell expatriates is that Sawa is a place that creates productive citizens. I believe Sawa is necessary for our country’s development.
- Thank you very much for your time!
Heven and Mussie