Young Men’s Christian Association



The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) of Singapore is located at 1 Orchard Road.1 Founded on the same Christian principles as its parent in Britain, the YMCA was officially established in Singapore on 30 June 1903. In its early years, the organisation was instrumental in providing members with access to self-enrichment programmes and sports facilities. Today, it caters to members of all religions and ethnicities through educational and social interaction activities.2

Background of YMCA movement

The YMCA was started by George Williams in London in 1844.3 Poor working conditions were the norm then and there was little opportunity for social and spiritual development. The pioneer members met regularly to socialise and study the Bible. The group was then known as a self-help and spiritual group for young industrial workers, but later called itself the YMCA. The concept soon gained a following as other industrial companies and factories started their own groups. Over time, the YMCA grew into a worldwide movement, with associations set up across the world.4

Establishment of YMCA in Singapore
There are several accounts of how the YMCA was founded in Singapore. According to writer Walter Makepeace, prominent officials and missionaries signed an appeal in 1900 to set up the YMCA in Singapore.5 Separately, businessman G. W. Lovell was said to have advocated for the establishment of YMCA in Singapore in order to divert British youth in the colony away from vices such as gambling and prostitution. He encouraged John R. Mott, an influential figure among the Protestants and a vigorous champion of the YMCA, to approach the English National Council of YMCAs for the services of an experienced general secretary to help set up a YMCA branch in Singapore. Robert Pringle, who was instrumental in starting the YMCA in Bombay (India) and Colombo (Sri Lanka), was subsequently sent to Singapore.6 With his expertise, the YMCA of Singapore was officially established on 30 June 1903 at Nos. 1 and 2 Armenian Street.7

As the YMCA grew in membership and expanded its range of programmes, it was relocated in 1904 to another building on the same street called Zetland House, which had formerly housed the American Embassy.8

Further expansion was again required, and in 1909 the government granted the YMCA a 999-year lease for a site in Dhoby Ghaut. The YMCA officially moved to its new Orchard Road premises in 1911.9

Activities
Among the work that the YMCA does is promoting sports for healthy living and development.10 The organisation was instrumental in introducing many sports to youths in Singapore by providing access to proper facilities including tennis courts, grounds for football, hockey, cricket as well as Singapore’s first swimming pool.11

The YMCA also offers technical and commercial education programmes for youths to further their studies and learn new skills.12 Technical education sessions began in 1913, while shorthand and book-keeping courses were started in 1919. Classes in typewriting and accountancy followed soon after. There were also classes to aid preparation for the London Chamber of Commerce examinations.13

Japanese Occupation

During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945, all British YMCA administrators and staff were interned in Changi Prison. The YMCA building on Orchard Road was seized and turned into the interrogation and torture headquarters of the Kempeitai (secret military police).14 The Japanese installed jail cells within the building and tortured the prisoners.15 War heroine Elizabeth Choy was a YMCA member accused of relaying messages to British internees. She was imprisoned for a total of 193 days and tortured by electric shock, beatings and starvation.16

After the end of World War II, there were differing views on what should be done with the YMCA building. Although the British had wanted it demolished and then to designate the open space as a memorial to those who had suffered under the Japanese, the building became a Forces Centre for a Salvation Army services welfare team from India. The YMCA finally managed to reclaim the building following numerous discussions. After much hard work, fundraising and refurbishment, the YMCA resumed operations in the Orchard Road building in December 1946.17

In 1969, plans were underway for rebuilding the Orchard Road premises. However, the rebuilding committee had to revise their proposal many times before gaining approval from the authorities.18 Approval was eventually obtained by 1979 for the construction of a nine-storey building.19 Two donation draws were then held in 1981 and 1982 to raise funds for the rebuilding.20 Reopened on 24 November 1984, the building at 1 Orchard Road is currently the headquarters of the YMCA of Singapore.21

Related associations

As the YMCA in Singapore was established with British youth in mind, some local personalities, such as philanthropist and social reformer Chen Su Lan, wanted a second YMCA to serve the interests of the Chinese majority. Attempts to start a Chinese YMCA began as early as 1924, but the idea was strongly opposed by the British authorities and the original YMCA in Singapore.22 However, Chen persevered and the Chinese YMCA was finally set up in 1946.23 In March 1974, the Chinese YMCA was renamed Metropolitan YMCA (MYMCA) to reflect its aim to serve people of all ethnicities.24 Even though both the MYMCA and the YMCA belong to the international YMCA movement and have similar aims, they remain separate organisations.25

Besides the MYMCA and the YMCA, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) was also established in Singapore. It was set up in 1875 by educator and missionary, Sophia Cooke.26 The YWCA is a sister organisation of the YMCA and caters to the interests and needs of women in Singapore.27

YMCA today

As an organisation built on Christian principles, the YMCA reaches out to the youths in Singapore and encourages healthy development, in keeping with the Christian ideals of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.28 Volunteerism and community work are promoted through camps and programmes to aid the less fortunate in Singapore.29

In recent years, the YMCA has worked hard to establish itself as a charity organisation.30 With a large pool of volunteers, the organisation hosts a wide range of activities for reaching out to the needy and less fortunate in Singapore.31 It also has international exchange programmes that gives the opportunity for local students to help the less fortunate overseas.32



Authors

Cherylyn Tok & Neo Tiong Seng



References
1. YMCA of Singapore. (n.d.). Homepage. Retrieved 2017, January 11 from YMCA Singapore website: http://www.ymca.org.sg/
2. Goh, R. B. H. (2006). Christian ministry and the Asian nation: The Metropolitan YMCA in Singapore, 1946–2006. Singapore: Metropolitan YMCA, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 267.395957 GOH); Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO); YMCA of Singapore. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2017, January 11 from YMCA Singapore website: http://www.ymca.org.sg/about-us/history/
3. YMCA of Singapore. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2017, January 11 from YMCA Singapore website: http://www.ymca.org.sg/about-us/history/
4. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, pp. 16–24. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
5. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
6. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, pp. 5–6. (Call no.: qRSING q267.395957 FLO)
7. Goh, R. B. H. (2006). Christian ministry and the Asian nation: The Metropolitan YMCA in Singapore, 1946–2006. Singapore: Metropolitan YMCA, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 267.395957 GOH); Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
8. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
9. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
10. Lyne, R., et al. (1992). The YMCA of Singapore: 90 years of service to the community. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING 267.395957 YMC); YMCA of Singapore. (2017). Organisational profile. Retrieved 2017, January 11 from YMCA Singapore website: http://www.ymca.org.sg/about-us/organisational-profile/
11. World Alliance of YMCAs. (2013). YMCA Singapore. Retrieved 2017, January 12 from World YMCA website: http://www.ymca.int/where-we-work/ymca-members-profiles/asia-and pacific/ymca-singapore/
12. World Alliance of YMCAs. (2013). YMCA Singapore. Retrieved 2017, January 12 from World YMCA website: http://www.ymca.int/where-we-work/ymca-members-profiles/asia-and-pacific/ymca-singapore/
13. Lyne, R., et al. (1992). The YMCA of Singapore: 90 years of service to the community. Singapore: The Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 59. (Call no.: RSING 267.395957 YMC)
14. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, pp. 41–42. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
15. Doctor given shock torture treatment. (1946, February 17). The Straits Times, p. 3; Singaporeans share their war-time experiences at talk. (1991, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 4; Curtain drops on ‘Double Tenth’ case. (1946, April 16). Indian Daily Mail, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 42. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
16. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 42. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
17. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, pp. 45–46. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
18. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 87. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
19. Chandy, G. (1979, May 21). Why there were only Europeans. New Nation, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Work on YMCA complex to start soon. (1981, April 5). The Straits Times, p. 5; Results of YMCA of Singapore donation draw 1982. (1982, November 10). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, p. 89. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
22. Flower, R. (2002). The Y: First 100 years in Singapore, 1902–2002. Singapore: Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore, pp. 48–49. (Call no.: RSING q267.395957 FLO)
23. Metropolitan YMCA. (n.d.). Values & heritage. Retrieved 2017, January 22 from Metropolitan YMCA website: https://www.mymca.org.sg/about/heritage
24. New name for Chinese YMCA. (1974, April 7). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. World Alliance of YMCAs. (2013). YMCA Singapore. Retrieved 2017, January 12 from World YMCA website: http://www.ymca.int/where-we-work/ymca-members-profiles/asia-and-pacific/ymca-singapore/
26. YWCA. (2017). Milestones. Retrieved 2017, January 22 from The YWCA Story website: http://ywca.org.sg/ywcastory/milestones/
27. Y.M.C.A. receives the Y.W.C.A. (1911, October 4). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. YMCA of Singapore. (2017). Mission and core values. Retrieved 2017, January 11 from YMCA Singapore website: http://www.ymca.org.sg/about-us/mission-and-core-values/
29. YMCA of Singapore. (2017). Organisational profile. Retrieved 2017, January 11 from YMCA Singapore website: http://www.ymca.org.sg/about-us/organisational-profile/
30. YMCA of Singapore. (2017). IPC status. Retrieved 2017, January 22 from YMCA Singapore website: http://www.ymca.org.sg/about-us/ipc-status/
31. YMCA of Singapore. (2017). Organisational profile. Retrieved 2017, January 11 from YMCA Singapore website: http://www.ymca.org.sg/about-us/organisational-profile/
32. YMCA of Singapore. (2017). University-YMCA. Retrieved 2017, January 11 from YMCA Singapore website: http://www.ymca.org.sg/empowerment/youths/university-ymca/



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Philosophy, psychology and religion>>Religion>>Christianity
Young Men's Christian associations--Singapore
Social work with youth--Singapore
Organisations>>Associations
Christian communities--Singapore
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Organisations