Metropolitan Young Men's Christian Association (MYMCA)
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The Metropolitan Young Men’s Christian Association (MYMCA) is located at 60 Stevens Road. Founded on the same Christian principles as the parent YMCA in Britain, the organisation was established in 1946 by Dr Chen Su Lan to cater to the Chinese population. Originally known as the Chinese YMCA, the organisation became the MYMCA in 1974 and today caters to members of all religions and ethnicities through self-help and community outreach programmes.
Background of YMCA movement
The YMCA was originally started by Sir George Williams in London in 1844, during the industrial period. 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. At that time, the group was known as a self-help and spiritual group for young industrial workers, and later called itself the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The concept soon gained a following as other industrial companies and factories started their own groups. Over time, the YMCA eventually grew into a worldwide movement.
Establishment of the MYMCA
The first YMCA in Singapore was founded in 1902. However, it focused on serving the needs of the British rather than reaching out to the local Chinese majority. In 1924, philanthropist and social reformer Dr Chen Su Lan sponsored an initiative to start a Chinese YMCA to cater specifically to the needs of the local Chinese. However, the existing YMCA and the Secretary of Chinese Affairs strongly opposed a second YMCA. It was ruled that any attempts to extend the reach of the YMCA to the Chinese population should be done in cooperation with the existing YMCA.
The end of the Japanese Occupation in 1945 provided Chen with an opportunity to set up the Chinese YMCA in Singapore. The National Council of YMCAs granted Chen a property at No. 107 Selegie Road that had previously housed the Japanese Club. The Chinese YMCA building at Selegie Road was fondly known as Tanglin Centre and completed in 1948. Governor Sir Franklin Gimson was asked to officiate at the opening, giving the false impression of official sanction.
Subsequently, Dr Tracy Strong, the Secretary General in Geneva, met with Chen while on a tour of Asia and, out of courtesy, invited him to observe the World Alliance Conference in Edinburgh as a bystander. Chen misunderstood this as a formal invitation to participate in the conference, subsequently returning to Singapore and declaring over the radio that he had been chosen to lead the YMCA movement in Singapore. Dr Strong denied Chen’s claims, and the YMCA insisted that Chen’s organisation come under the YMCA or assume another name. Gimson intervened to convince the two institutions to discuss potential ideas for cooperation in a meeting held on 25 May 1948, but no consensus was reached. The two YMCAs remained separate and gradually achieved amicable relations only with the passage of time.
From 1954 to 1957, the Chinese YMCA faced financial difficulties as it attempted to expand in the face of the declining economic situation. The Chinese YMCA intended to expand by building an International Centre at Palmer Road. However, Homer Cheng, president of the Chinese YMCA, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1954, in the midst of raising funds for the building project. Chen stepped in to rescue the association from bankruptcy by securing an emergency loan.
In 1966, a fire broke out at No. 107 Selegie Road and destroyed the Chinese YMCA building. The government acquired the building and gave the Chinese YMCA a total compensation of $543,000. It was not until 1970 that the organisation purchased the property at 60 Stevens Road for a new headquarters. However, the Chinese YMCA only managed to repay all debts to the banks by 1974. Then-president Gwee Ah Leng sought the help of the Lee Foundation and patron Tan Sri Dr Runme Shaw to get the building project started with generous contributions of half a million dollars from each.
Development of the MYMCA
It was under Gwee’s leadership that the Chinese YMCA changed its name to the Metropolitan Young Men’s Christian Association in 1974. The change was to reflect the association’s commitment to serving Singapore’s multi-racial population and the larger international community. Gwee was instrumental in leading the association into a more cosmopolitan phase, collaborating with more social agencies and better positioned to serve the needs of the multicultural Singapore population.
In 1976, the YMCA Amalgamation Coordinating Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Gwee to provide a platform for the YMCA and the MYMCA to discuss the possibility of a merger. Gwee also became the president of the National Council of YMCAs. In 1978, a new National YMCA was formed under a revised constitution to facilitate a merger of the two YMCAs, but disagreements left the issue unresolved.
In 1978, Gwee officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony of the new MYMCA headquarters at 60 Stevens Road, to be known as Tanglin Centre. The MYMCA headquarters was thus moved from Palmer Road to Stevens Road as it began operations in 1980. The lease on the Palmer Road premises expired in October 1980, but the association was allowed to continue operations at Palmer Road on a temporary occupation license to be renewed every year. Tanglin Centre was officially opened in 1981 by patron Tan Sri Dr Runme Shaw.
In 1979, the MYMCA rented the former Nanyang Tun Cheow School at No. 43, Lorong 17 Geylang. This building came to be known as Sims Centre and served as the base for the association’s community outreach projects to the youth, elderly and children from lower income families.
In 1984, the MYMCA purchased the property next to Tanglin Centre, No. 58 Stevens Road, to expand further. Opened in 1988, No. 58 Stevens Road became the Tanglin Centre hostel. MYMCA childcare branches were also opened in various residential areas of Singapore from 1985 onwards.
As of 2006, the MYMCA had a total of 205 full members (all baptised Christians), 133 ordinary members (non-Christians) and around 2,600 associate members (programme participants who subsequently signed up for membership). It operates programmes and activities all over Singapore for participants of all ethnicities. Community outreach projects cover 12 childcare centres, elderly programmes, weekly Christian fellowship gatherings as well as various educational enrichment courses and physical education programmes.
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(Call no.: RSING 267.395957 GOH)
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(Call no.: RSING 267.395957 MET)
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(Call no.: RSING 267.395957 MET)
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The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.
Young Men's Christian associations--Singapore
Social work with youth--Singapore
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Philosophy, psychology and religion>>Religion>>Christianity