Our History

The Student Y was started in 1946 by an Anglican campus chaplain, Rev Percy Sitters, to serve as a residential club, particularly for ex-servicemen after WWII. He was burdened by the lack of Christian influence on students and acquired the Y property to set up a “Christian residential club” to address this. He hoped that Y alumni would become the next generation of people active in Christian service.

Student ministry has continued at the UCT Student Y under the direction of a succession of long-serving and dedicated leaders. In almost 75 years since it was founded, Fritz van der Lecq is only its fifth director, serving since 2007. Our desire is, more strongly than ever, to see an increase in the depth and breadth of Christianity on campus, and to see the next generation of Christian leaders equipped for service in our churches and our world.

The Founding of the YMCA – London

The Young Men’s Christian Association is a movement dedicated to meet human needs. It was founded in the context of the British Industrial Revolution, which forced thousands to abandon the countryside for better prospects in the city. Britain was plagued with many social ills and human suffering caused by a sudden rise in immigration in London. It was the worst affected city, and there was no agency to take care of people in need.

Amongst many migrants George Williams came to London in 1841 looking for employment and worked as an assistant in the drapery establishment of Ms. Hitchcock and Rogers. Later he married Hitchcock’s daughter, Helen, and took over proprietorship of the firm after Hitchcock died. During the days of his struggle he formed a group of 12 young men from different Protestant denominations – three each from the Methodists, Independent, Presbyterian and the Church of England – to take care of the spiritual and human needs of young men who came from rural Britain to find a living in the oppressive conditions of urban society. It was in George William’s room that twelve young men met on 6 June, 1844, to form a society for improving the spiritual conditions of young men engaged in drapery and other trades. Two weeks later the society was given the name “The Young Men’s Christians Association”.

The YMCA Symbol, the ‘red triangle’, the most popular and universal symbol of the YMCA, was designed by Luther Halsey Gulick in 1891. The YMCA at the time had emphasised only the spiritual and the mental well-being of young people, but Gulick believed that the Christian faith engages mind, body, and spirit. The triangle was chosen to represent the person as a united whole. Gulick said that a person is “not a body and a mind and a spirit, but a wonderful result of their union, something entirely different from any single aspect of himself.”

The first South African YMCA was established in Cape Town in 1865. Pietermaritzburg and Durban YMCAs followed soon after, in 1875. Today, YMCAs exist in 21 communities around South Africa, and offer a variety of programs that seeks to empower young people for life, leadership and service.

As part of the global YMCA family, the UCT Student YMCA affirms the Paris Basis (1855) as the ongoing foundation statement of the mission of the YMCA, and shares a desire to prepare young people for the challenge they will face in the 21st century as expressed in the Challenge 21 (1998). We form part of the African Alliance of YMCA’s (www.africaymca.org) and beyond that World Alliance of YMCA’s with its global reach.

The YMCA Paris Basis

The continuing basis of the work and witness of the YMCA is expressed in the Paris Basis, created in 1855 when YMCA leaders of individual YMCAs from Europe and North America met to discuss joining together in a federation. The Paris Basis statement has fostered unity and enhanced co-operation amongst individual YMCA societies around the world since 1855.

The Paris Basis is still a guiding principle of the organization today and reads as follows:

“The Young Men’s Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of his Kingdom amongst young men. Any differences of opinion on other subjects, however important in themselves, shall not interfere with the harmonious relations of the constituent members and associates of the World Alliance.”

Challenge 21

“Affirming the Paris Basis adopted in 1855 as the ongoing foundation statement of the mission of the YMCA, at the threshold of the third millennium we declare that the YMCA is a world-wide Christian, ecumenical, voluntary movement for women and men with special emphasis on and the genuine involvement of young people and that it seeks to share the Christian ideal of building a human community of justice with love, peace and reconciliation for the fullness of life for all creation.”

Each member YMCA is therefore called to focus on certain challenges, which are prioritized according to its own context. These challenges, which are an evolution of the Kampala Principles, are :

  • Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and striving for spiritual, intellectual and physical well-being of individuals and wholeness of communities.
  • Empowering all, especially young people and women to take increased responsibilities and assume leadership at all levels and working towards an equitable society.
  • Advocating for and promoting the rights of women and upholding the rights of children.
  • Fostering dialogue and partnership between people of different faiths and ideologies and recognizing the cultural identities of people and promoting cultural renewal.
  • Committing to work in solidarity with the poor, dispossessed, uprooted people and oppressed racial, religious and ethnic minorities.
  • Seeking to be mediators and reconcilers in situations of conflict and working for meaningful participation and advancement of people for their own self-determination.
  • Defending God’s creation against all that would destroy it and preserving and protecting the earth’s resources for coming generations.

To face these challenges, the YMCA will develop patterns of co-operation at all levels that enable self-sustenance and self-determination. Adopted at the 14th World Council of YMCAs, Frechen, Germany, 1998.

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