Not to Do And Die
My heart goes out to those parents who lost their teenaged children in National Service training .
How distraught they must have felt in losing a teenaged son or daughter.
They must have also felt a lot of anger in face of such a tragedy that could have been prevented.
I can feel their anger.
The latest death was that of 18 year-old Prema Elenchelian at the Tok Bali camp in Pasir Putih, Kelantan.
She was the 6th trainee to have died at camp since the programme was implemented in 2004. Let's hope hers would be the last (in a NS camp).
The number of deaths may make up less than one per cent of the NS trainee population, but let's remember that they are not mere statistics.
They were the nation's youth.
NS training council chairman Lee Lam Thye, reported to have been very distraught over Prema's death, said that there are plans to make it compulsory for trainees to undergo medical check-ups.
This, he pointed out, was the plan from the start, but was not implemented because the Health Ministry could not cope with 35,000 medical check-ups at one time.
I have never been against the NS programme. I just think that the way it is being run leaves so much to be desired. Some camps are run ok. Others, as they say -- suck.
That shouldn't be the case, should it?
Making sure NS camps are run properly and efficiently is non-negotiable. For as long as they are not, problems will keep cropping up and Malaysians are not going to have faith in the programme.
Problems of poor power supply, poor hygiene, poor water supply, poor this and that, are already bad to begin with, but when a trainee dies, that is totally unacceptable, unless, of course, it is due to causes beyond the camp adminsitration's control. Now, even that can, and without a doubt, will be disputed by the (trainees') families concerned.
I have talked to dozens of parents. They accept that the NS is here to stay. But, they cannot accept any lack of commitment on the part of the authorities in ensuring that their kids will be ok.
We have to ask -- what do we expect from the programme?
Obviously, the government wants to instil in young Malaysians a sense of patriotism and promote racial integration.
What's the other one? To train our young to be ready soldiers when the time comes as Singapore has been doing?
Or to instil a sense of discipline among young Malaysians?
These are 2 different things.
If you want them to be military trained, then the facilities, including trainers and staff should not fall short of what is expected in the military.
That's not what we want. So, don't expect the kids to be like soldiers.
Yet, the amenities in army camps are far better -- decent food, clean kitchens, clean toilets -- a spartan but clean environment.
The camp where Prema died had its dining hall and canteen sealed by the Pasir Putih District Council as they were dirty.
So, don't you think that they should take a serious look at the running of the NS camps across the country, as well as any weaknesses in the programme itself?
I don't know whether enough has been or is being done about it. I suspect not. I hope I am very wrong.
But I know I don't want another parent to go through the pain of losing a child in an NS camp.
As Prema's grandmother, S. Mariayie, cried: "She is too young to die".
They all are.