The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) movement was started in 1844 in London by Mr George Williams and a group of like-minded concerned Christians. It is one of the oldest and largest Movements for youth in the world and now operates in 119 countries, and reaching 58 million people. The YMCA works to bring social justice and peace to young people and their communities, regardless of religion, race, gender or culture.
Established in 1902, the YMCA of Singapore is a volunteer-based Christian organisation that seeks to serve and impact all members of the community, regardless of race, language or religion, through programmes, services and enterprises to develop the body, mind and spirit.
A Brief History of the YMCA of Singapore
The YMCA of Singapore celebrated 115 years of service to the nation in 2017.
A large part of this journey encompasses its contributions to the local social service sector through successively providing leadership to the Board of the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) for decades, ever since its inception as the Singapore Council of Social Service (SCSS).
YMCA of Singapore has contributed significantly to the leadership of the Council, beginning with Mr Cecil V R Wong, then Treasurer of YMCA, being appointed as the first Honorary Treasurer of the SCSS. He served alongside Dr Lee Kong Chian and Mr S R Nathan, who were the President and Secretary of SCSS respectively. Dr Robert C K Loh, YMCA’s longest serving President from 1970 to 1992, was subsequently appointed as the first President of the NCSS when it was restructured from the SCSS in 1992. Prior to his presidency, Dr Loh was already actively involved in the local social service sector, making contributions in various advisory committees. Dr Loh had also served as the Vice President of the SCSS from 1984 to 1992. Mr Sim Miah Kian, another of the YMCA’s longest serving Directors and Vice President of the YMCA from 1974 to 1986, was also a founding member of the SCSS. Other YMCA Directors who have served on the NCSS Board include former YMCA Presidents Mr David Wong Cheong Fook, Mr Stephen Loh Sur Yong, Mr Chew Kwee San and Mr Eric Teng Heng Chew.
Back to history, the YMCA takes pride in the following initiatives, some of which continue to flourish today.
The YMCA espouses the development of the Body, Mind & Spirit, and actively contributed in the promotion of sports by opening the first public swimming pool1 in Singapore as well as constructing tennis, basketball and volleyball courts in the early 1900′s2. The YMCA is also credited with involvement in the invention of Basketball and Volleyball3, and was the first to introduce Rugby4 into Singapore. Two of our past Presidents, Mr. F C Sands and Mr. James M. Fraser, founded the local Boy Scouts and the Boys’ Brigade5 movements respectively.
The YMCA also pioneered the classes6 for commercial studies. By 1913, the scope of courses available had been expanded to include professional courses such as architecture, building construction and electrical engineering among others.
In the late 1970’s, the government banned discos as they had become increasingly associated with drugs and undesirable activities. The YMCA then worked with the Police and Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association to re-open the first disco7 in town and provided supervision through YMCA volunteers. Though other establishments eventually set up their own discos, the YMCA disco remained popular with the youth who found the place affordable and safe as they knew that the YMCA was running the place.
In the early 1980’s, the YMCA pioneered the setting up of the first Social Service Centre8 in Singapore (currently known as the Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre). It was set up in response to government initiative to build a healthier community through supporting individuals and families by providing developmental, preventive and remedial services. The centre was a partnership with the Anglican Church and Asian Women Welfare Association. By 1985, the centre became an autonomous entity but the YMCA continued to support the centre’s projects. Mr Eric Chan, then a YMCA Director, was Chairman of the Centre’s committee from 1992 to 1998.
In 1998, with support from the Ministry of Education, the YMCA took over the organising of the annual Plain English Speaking Awards (PESA). This is a national level public speaking competition which aims to develop students’ abilities to think and communicate effectively, sharpen their English speaking skills and build their self-confidence.
In the 1990’s, the YMCA embarked on a pilot programme of the Inter-ministry Committee on Youth Crime, formed to galvanize efforts in rehabilitate young offenders and keeping youth from crime. Starting out as a collaborative effort between the YMCA, North West Community Development Council and the National Youth Council, this led to the establishment of YMCA Project Bridge in 1999. It was the first outreach programme for out-of-school youth and youth-at-risk that aims to guide them to return to mainstream education as well as equip them with the skills for employment. Following the success of YMCA Project Bridge, many other similar centres have been set up today in Singapore.
- In 1917: ‘The Y – First 100 Years In Singapore 1902-2002’ by Raymond Flower, pg10
- In 1918: ‘The Y – First 100 Years In Singapore 1902-2002’ by Raymond Flower, pg10
- In 1891 and 1895 respectively:
- ‘The Y – First 100 Years In Singapore 1902-2002’ by Raymond Flower, pg11
- In 1910 and 1930 respectively: ’90 Years Of Service To The Community’ by Rowland Lyne, C.Gopal Menon, Edward K.W Ong and Ong Ai Teck, pg19
- ’90 Years Of Service To The Community’ by Rowland Lyne, C.Gopal Menon, Edward K.W Ong and Ong Ai Teck, pg19 & ‘The Y – First 100 Years In Singapore 1902-2002’ by Raymond Flower, pg9
- ’90 Years Of Service To The Community’ by Rowland Lyne, C.Gopal Menon, Edward K.W Ong and Ong Ai Teck, pg30 & ‘The Y – First 100 Years In Singapore 1902-2002’ by Raymond Flower, pg85
- ’90 Years Of Service To The Community’ by Rowland Lyne, C.Gopal Menon, Edward K.W Ong and Ong Ai Teck, pg91