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National Youth Service Corp in Medium Prison Kirikiri, Lagos, Nigeria

In this article, Sr. Gertrude Nkwocha reflects on her recent experience of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) in Nigeria. She writes:
"According to the history, NYSC in Nigeria began in 1973 with the aim of encouraging unity among young Nigerians. NYSC programme is a scheme for all graduates of higher institutions below the age of thirty. Thus, with bags all packed up, all roads led to Iyana- Ipaja Orientation Camp Lagos for all fresh graduates on the 27th of March 2019 for a three-week military training and other exciting activities.

Like Jonah in the Bible running away from Nineveh, I was running away from this service year. I watched my immediate elder Sister die slowly after her camping and the trauma lasted in my head. It became difficult to see graduates in the NYSC uniform because my sister was buried in her uniform; as she was serving her nation when she died.

Eventually, I got to do it, since I graduated when I was a little below thirty, as according to the law in Nigeria. I am far above the age now but I was not given exemption because of the law, so I just got to do it due to the importance of the certificate here in Nigeria.

I was posted to work in Medium Prison Kirikiri Lagos, to teach some students in the prison who are preparing for one exam or the other. I felt so welcomed by the Warders and Authorities of the prison who were delighted to have a Corper-Sister working with them.

The ‘inmates’ are called Students because they are learning from mistakes that brought them to the prison yard. Working in the prison is a wonderful, life-giving experience. Here, you see people who have accepted their fate in a restricted area and a lot of conversion and improvement go on in the prisons.

On arrival, I thought I was going to meet people with little knowledge of the English Language, but to my greatest surprise some of them are fluent in the language. Some of them are graduates or have being involved in one business or the other. From the very beginning, I told them it’s an interactive class where we learn from one another and that nothing said or spoken in class is rubbish as far as learning is concerned, we just got to look at it the proper way. That gave them the freedom to be and communicate according to varied levels.

I go to class with the joy of making an impact and I must say I am impacted in my every encounter with them. Like a child expecting its’ mother from a journey and with all smiles, I am welcomed into class. Knowledge opens its’ hand wide to embrace these men whose hands are in turn wide open to get the beautiful hug it gives. What does one expect here if not learning going on in its’ simplest form as possible? I am particularly touched by the co-operation that goes on among the students in the process of learning. If one is lost, the other quickly carries him along like a group of ants on a journey co-operating together. The zeal in them to learn is so amazing and that paves way for them.

In a small corner of this prison yard, dreams are on the roads of being realized. The words of Jesus become so real in john 12:24 that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain”. It is evident in the life of these students as life has taught them a big lesson that they won’t simply forget. One does not value freedom until one is chained. One chained, longs for freedom beyond words."

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