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Liberia YMCA at 131: Still Transforming Lives

 

Founded on August 10, 1881 in Harper, Maryland County by Bishop Samuel D. Ferguson, an Episcopalian Clergyman; the YMCA of Liberia, as an ecumenical movement, has settled itself in Liberia as an icon of youth development for over 130 years.

The Liberia YMCA is Africa’s oldest YMCA. It is a member of the global YMCA movement, the World Alliance of YMCAs (WAYs); founded in 1855. It produced the first black president of the World Alliance of YMCAs, Dr. Charles D. Sherman in 1955 and also became a founding member of the Africa Alliance of YMCAs (AAYMCAs) in 1977.

Through its 131 years of existence in the nation’s history, the YMCA of Liberia has developed and continues to transform the lives of vulnerable young people and their communities through constructive engagements, dialogues and through the implementation of projects and programs which has shaped their minds, hearts and body, while ensuring that they become useful and productive citizens in their respective communities.

The YMCA of Liberia as a youth driven organization has 13 program centers, in 6 of Liberia’s 15 counties (Montserrado, Margibi, Bong, Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties), where the institution implements youth driven and youth development programs such as leadership development, peace and civic education, sports and recreation, conflict management, et cetera in line with its strategic plan.

At the end of the civil upheaval in Liberia, the institution adopted its first strategic plan 2003-2008,which sought to address issues of emergency in Liberia at the time and later adopted another Strategic Plan from 2008-2012, which seeks to address issues of recovery; from an era of war to relative peace and stability. These plans that were adopted by the YMCA of Liberia, clearly articulated government’s agenda and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In an effort to make the institution more viable and sustainable at the end of the civil crisis in Liberia, the YMCA of Liberia made two real world investments. Investments in organizational development specifically in the young people and its lay leadership; which has served as a source of mentorship and inspiration to the national secretariat and also has its own success story in the overall development of the institution. The restructuring and reactivation of local boards in each branch of the institution within the 6 counties of operation was not only laudable, but provided ownership to the community members who saw the YMCA as their own, thereby increasing membership in those areas. The investment in organizational development did not only produce an efficient lay leadership but revised the institution’s constitution and other policies documents. These led to a smooth transition of power without any form of wrangling during the institution’s 44th Ordinary General Assembly held in 2008.

On the other front, the YMCA of Liberia with the assistance of international partners heavily invested in information, communication and technology (ICT). The institution opened its Information Technology Center (IT Center) in November 2004, which eradicated the typewriter age in the organization. The IT Center has trained over 9,586 young people (of which 53% are females and 47% are males) in different computer software in beginner and advanced levels during its seventeen (17) cycles of operation over the last 8 years. The computer literacy skills of the institution’s staffs, volunteers and interns were not only enhanced; but they utilized their training in computer software and it continues to serve as a source of knowledge and opportunity and has enhanced their livelihoods during these turbulent economic periods.

The institution’s investments in the young people of Liberia irrespective of religious background and faith have never gone unnoticed. The formation and reactivation of community based clubs, university clubs (Y-Phalanx) and high school clubs (Hi-Y) along with its local youth councils and national youth council have not only provided young people the opportunity to persuasively speak to their leaders on issues of burning concerns but have also afforded the young people the space to take the lead in the overall administration of the day to day affairs of the organization; evident by youth taking up key roles at the level of the national secretariat and making up not less than 30% of the full membership of the board of directors (at local and national levels) of the institution, as a matter of policy.

These distinguished YMCA’s youth; today, serve in both the public and private sectors of our nation in positions of trust. They have dominated our body polity, businesses, the academia, religious institutions and other youth organizations. Even, with the rebirth of the umbrella organization of youth in Liberia, the Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY) in 2005; two of these distinguished youths of the YMCA served as president of FLY with other YMCA youth holding strategic positions.

The transformation of lives by the YMCA cannot be overemphasized during the dark days of our country and even now in the history of Liberia. The institution has settled itself as a reliable organization and leader in the formation of sustainable and gainful partnerships and networks. These are evident by its relationship with government line ministries and agencies and with international non-governmental organizations, where they all partnered to meet government’s deliverables and the Millennium Development Goals.

With all the tension and stress in the nation, coupled with illiteracy, youth unemployment and other social ills, there is one thing the YMCA of Liberia does; it develops leaders, builds strong communities and transforms lives.

By: Alvin W. Yelloway
Source: Liberia YMCA

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