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City of Banjul
Monday, January 18, 2021

Service before self

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By Aisha Jallow

Service before self is a motto of the U.S. Air Force. I saw a movie some days ago and that motto spoke to me. I had to write it down in case I would forget it, and decided to use the motto as a topic for this article.

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To me, the spirit of “service before self” is to place service to others above your own self-interests. This is the core value that, in my opinion, reminds us that we are an important part of something bigger than ourselves. The movie I saw was of the romantic kind, but it had a serious undertone. When the movie was over there were some information about the U.S. Air Force and their activities on the place that was the setting for the manuscript.

The setting was some distant islands you could only reach by small boats or by helicopter. These islands were too far away to be connected with the mainland power lines, so they depended on generators and solar power. The islands were far out in the sea, so they were very vulnerable any time there was a severe storm. Once in a while, the residents of the islands got food supply and things they needed by the Air Force. The soldiers made it a part of their training, they packed large wooden crates and flew them to the islands. The crates were connected to one parachute each and were thrown out from the planes. The residents of the islands used everything they got, even the wooden crates and the material in the parachutes were useful. Some politicians wanted to shut down the regement on the main island, and the movie was about the struggle to persuade the politicians to change their plans.

Enough of the movie, and back to reality. What does service before self mean to you? Is that something you ever had considered? That is a motto all mothers are living by, outspoken or not, but that is a fact.

We, as mothers, are in constant service both day and night. There is nothing like a day off, a good night sleep or a vacation far away from the family and our duties. We can’t leave easily, and our duties always follow us. Our thoughts and prayers are with our families, the family is our greatest joy as well as our source of worry. Whenever we earn some dalasis here and there, we always consider where to make best use of them – for our family’s sake. That is how it should be and that is too many times taken for granted. How many of us consider all the sacrifices all the mothers in the world are doing?

Let us apply this narrative on a larger perspective: our country, The Gambia. We often speak about Mama Africa or even Mama Gambia, but let us for a while look at the situation of our state from a mother’s perspective. Let’s say that the citizens of The Gambia belong to the same family, and Mama Gambia would be the one who is taking care of them all. In a family you have all kinds of personalities. Some kids are easy to raise, others are naughty. Some follow the directions and others pretend as they didn’t hear them. No matter how your kids are, you still love them and care about them. You try to help them in every way you can, you make sure they are fed and have a roof over their heads.

If a child gets sick, the mother tries her best to find some cure for the illness. She doesn’t ignore some of her kids and tell herself that they don’t matter as she already has so many kids. Let us place this narrative on the State, and look at it as if president Barrow and his government were those who were responsible for the wellfare of the Gambians.

What? Is that what they are? Why didn’t anyone tell them that, because it seems as they don’t know! So you mean that Barrow and his gang should look after all Gambians, make sure that you are fed and have a roof over your heads? It is obvious that they don’t have a clue about this, because otherwise they would have done something about the current situation. Oh dear, what to do? Who can tell them, and how? I wonder if they read my articles? I am rather good at informing people about things that matter. I am also rather good at whipping some lazy butts when I feel they need to be reminded of their duties.

Duty comes first, that has always been my motto both as a mother and as a professional. Efficiency in a home as well as in a work place is depending on the sense of duty. That is a mindset that we must ask from those who are in authority somehow, as well as from ourselves. Our officials get paid by our tax money, and that needs to be stressed now and then. People on the top become cocky, they believe being above others and that rules don’t apply on them in the same way as on others. That mindset needs to change and that must change together with our expectations. There must be an end of bowing with the cap in our hands. This unnecessary respect belongs to the colonial times and has nothing to do with modern times.

His excellency here and Her excellency there ! Why? How are they excellent? On what? Have you ever asked yourself that question? If that title should remain, then it must come with a sense of obligation and responsibility. It is not a position on the top of the ladder, it is only a label and as such it can be peeled off.

Service before self doesn’t seem to be a motto for our officials, quite the contrary. Self before service seems to be the motto they begin to live by as soon as they step in to their offices. Self before service is the perfume they wear, and the liquid they drink. Self before service is the mantra they use instead of calling the name of our Lord while they are praying. ”Oh Lord, give me more! Give me many years in this position so I can waste the tax payers’ money some more.” That seems to be their prayer, and for what we know God has been listening. I pray too, but I know that prayer is not enough – it is when prayers are combined with hard work and determination we can see some result. God is not our puppeteer, we have our own free will to do good or bad.

Times are harder than ever in The Gambia. The pandemic has struck the whole world and even though not many have suffered physically from the virus, in The Gambia, you are suffering from the financial consequences. The aid you were promised is in the pockets of our top politicians. They eat your food, use your water and electricity, pay their children’s school fees with your money and their wives buy new shoes and clothes at your expense! Do you still think it is a good idea to call someone ”Your Excellency”? Do you still think they deserve your respect? Stop looking down on the ground, raise your eyes and your visions. Service before self – how will that apply on you? What can you expect waiting for someone to do it for you?

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