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.
YMCA also goes beyond raising funds for itself. The highly acclaimed Citibank-YMCA Youth For Causes programme piloted in 2002 has successfully raised over $ 2.1 million for the less fortunate in 214 VWOs, mobilizing over 45,400 volunteers and reaching out to 2.7 million people. The National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre’s Non-Profit Organization Award for Philanthropy Management conferred on the YMCA on 15 November 2007 recognized the YMCA’s best practices in donor management and fundraising among non-profit organizations.
In December 2004, when the Asian Tsunami Disaster struck, the YMCA rallied some 19 Non-Profit Organizations in Singapore to provide emergency aid to victims of the disaster. Within three days of the disaster, the YMCA had set up an operations centre at its Orchard Road headquarters to support the relief efforts. It also setup a hotline, rallied volunteers and coordinated volunteer-driven overseas relief missions to Sri Lanka. Through the YMCA, two medical relief teams were dispatched to Sri Lanka, with enough medical supplies to treat 200 patients a day, for a week. More missions to Sri Lanka eventually followed. The YMCA continued to be involved in coordinating the building of a community centre in the tsunami-hit Batticaloa region on the east coast of Sri Lanka for the next 10 years. The building has now been completed.
In 2007, the YMCA established the YMCA-Lim Kim San Volunteers Programme which aims to promote volunteerism among Singaporeans as well as enhance the capability of volunteers to better serve the beneficiaries. In the same year, YMCA partnered with the National University of Singapore, to provide certification courses for the staff and volunteers of Non-Profit Organisations. The YMCA-NUS Business School Volunteer Service Management Programme is Singapore’s first most comprehensive management course for the non-profit sector. It aims to inspire and equip volunteers and staff with the skills and knowledge to implement service projects successfully.
Held in conjunction with Y Camp Challenge, 30 June 2007 signified the beginning of partnership between YMCA of Singapore and Tan Chin Tuan Foundation with the aim of enhancing the lives of the less fortunate. The Foundation pledged $990,000 over the next three years to increase the YMCA’s programmes from 10 in 2007 to 14 by 2009, number of beneficiaries from 500 to 980 and number of active and regular volunteers from 4,100 to 5,050. There will be more new programmes to reach out to other categories of beneficiaries, such as the elderly and children. The signing of the partnership agreement was witnessed by the Guest-of-Honour, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan. This partnership is a shining example for other companies and foundations to collaborate with voluntary welfare organizations to better serve the community together. 2007 also marked the first YMCA Proms, which celebrates diverse abilities of persons with special needs and advocates for an inclusive society.
In recognition of the YMCA’s commitment to serve the less fortunate through its structured and sustained programmes, the YMCA of Singapore received the Meritorious Award and Excellent Service Silver Award from the Children’s Charities Association on 20 October 2007. YMCA was nominated by Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) for the Meritorious Award and by Association of Persons with Special Needs (APSN) for the Excellent Service Silver Award. Last but not least, as an acknowledgement of YMCA’s 105 years of service to the community, National Parks Board presented a new orchid hybrid that was named, “Dendrobium YMCA” on 19 November 2007 at the National Orchid Garden, Singapore Botanic Garden. Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan graced the ceremony.
In 2012, the first YMCA Silver Fiesta was held to promote active ageing and inter-generational bonding between elderly and youth. Apart from fun activities and cultural performances, the following runs of the YMCA Silver Fiesta would aim to include workshops and consultation services that improved the quality of life of seniors through imparting life skills such as increasing digital literacy.
In addition to reaching out to older populations, the YMCA of Singapore dedicated itself to serving all ages, and sought to serve children from a younger age. In January 2018, the YMCA of Singapore opened its first kindergarten care centres to nurture community champions from an even younger age. The positive impacts of early intervention manifested at the Sengkang South Ki-bies carnival on 24 March 2018, which involved students from all 20 YMCA Student Care Centres of the time in raising funds for less privileged students.
- 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