In 1844, YMCA began above a draper’s shop in St Paul’s Churchyard, London. Sunday 4 August to Wednesday 8 August, more than 3,000 YMCA young people, staff, guests and volunteers from 100 countries gathered just down the River Thames at ExCeL London for an anniversary celebration, YMCA175.
“Empowerment is not given, it is taken” – on this last day of YMCA175, speakers and panellists wanted to make sure delegates returned home with the will and the power to act. John Loughton opened the plenary session talking about modern activism. He encouraged the crowd in “ABC, Always Be Confident, Always Be Compassionate and Always Be Challenging”.
Lindsay Martin from YMCA Greater Vancouver shared about her work on reconciliation with Indigenous communities in Canada. She said, “Reconciliation is a collective effort – we are all responsible and we all have a role to play.” The CEO of Sioux YMCA in the USA, Andrew Corley, followed Lindsay and said, “Your job is to change the world. But you have to take care of yourself first because if you are not, you won’t be able to impact others.”
The Civic Engagement panel highlighted the early afternoon session and looked at how young people can impact on their institutions and governments. Many youth movements use online petitions, digital campaigns or address tweets to their national leaders. Though this might feel like a small effort, Zoë Kelland from Global Citizen said, “We need to have an understanding of the power we have. Because if we do not believe that our actions can make a change, we don’t do anything.”
The final panel of the event covered Partnership for the SDGs, discussing how we can achieve the SDGs by 2030. “Technology helps us to understand that we are making process, but when we live in a reality of despair, this means nothing,” World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Madjri Sanvee said. “There is hope because YMCA and other organisations speak a common language. YMCA cannot solve the problems by itself, but when we all come together and we understand the plea of the people we serve, we can provide concrete solutions.”
The UN Advocacy Group also held a workshop to reflect on ways to strengthen the relationships between the UN and YMCA. The group shared how this starts with a better understanding of the SDGs’ mechanisms and languages. Sanvee said as an introduction to the workshop, “We believe in peace-building and we believe in multilateralism. The UN is looking at youth organisations like ours to reach young people.”
After two sessions of brainstorming, the World Café welcomed delegations to reflect on seven scenarios for their future in 2044. They explored how those could apply and impact their regions of the world. World YMCA is now going to take the outcomes to start the process of the 2044 YMCA strategy.
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. YMCA175 offered a closing ceremony at the image if its participants: colourful, joyful, diverse and young. And the movement is already looking forward to the future, particularly the June 2020 Youth Summit in San Francisco, USA, and the 2022 World Council, taking place in Arhaus, Denmark. In his closing statements, Sanvee said, “Something significant and positive has transpired over these past days, and I believe YMCA will never be the same again.”
Watch the highlights on our Youtube channel.