Here at the Missoula YMCA we keep focused on the core human values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. Our continuing goal is to live those values as we strive daily to build strong kids, strong families and strong communities.
In those two sentences we see the entire point of the YMCA—locally, regionally, nationally, globally. We see that building strength in individuals, in families of any size and configuration, and in communities is not just a Missoula thing. It is a world thing. The same goes for respect and responsibility, caring and honesty—these values are not just local, these values are human, therefore they are global.
And we are learning that and experiencing that daily most especially since we formalized a partnership with the YMCA organization in Sierra Leone, a nation on the west coast of Africa and whose children, families, communities and environment have been ravaged by years of government corruption and civil war. Any one could tell you that we gain and we learn at least as much as we give.
Since forming an official partnership with Sierra Leone YMCA in 2004, Missoula’s community members have donated $56,000, most of which has supported the YMCA in Freetown, the nation’s capital, and its successful vocational school for youth. A similar school opened in 2009 in Makeni, and the Missoula YMCA plans to raise another $30,000 for the Makeni school and other Y programs. The goal of these schools is to provide youth a safe place to live and learn the literacy and job skills that they will need to not only take care of themselves, but also to become the citizen leaders that Sierra Leone needs if it is to survive and prosper as a nation. Sierra Leone YMCA is based in Freetown and supports Y work in more than 24 urban and rural communities.
Sierra Leone is a tropical, coastal country with sandy beaches, forests (when they haven’t been deforested) and mountains. It also is a nation coming out of a history of political corruption, blood diamonds, child soldiers and other horrors of a 12-year civil war that only ended with the help of the United Nations. During that history open land was ruined, forests were cleared, communities were crushed, families were split apart and more than 50,000 civilians were left homeless and/or refuges. The civil war, which started about 1991, was declared over in January 2002 and the UN peacekeeping force left in December 2005. (A UN-backed war crimes court opened in 2004.) Today, Sierra Leone remains at the bottom of the United Nation’s Human Development Index and its list of Least Developed Countries.
With the end of open fighting, the Sierra Leone YMCA—which has survived since 1912—has evolved its strategic plan from one based on relief work to development work. Its current mission, as stated on its Web site www.ymca-sl.org is: “To promot e self-reliance and sustainability, capacity building, good governance, advocacy and networking, youth and women empowerment in our communities through programs that develops the body, mind and spirit of all.”
As an indigenous non-governmental organization, it continues, “the YMCA offers unique institutional development and program collaboration opportunities across national, religious and ethnic boundaries.” Its professional staff and 1,000+ volunteer corps lead by example as they place “strong emphasis on transparent governance, democratic leadership and inclusion of youths and women in decision-making.”
The Sierra Leone YMCA works daily to embrace and support teens, young adults and women. Current programs focus on HIV/Aids, peace building, human rights and justices, civic education, skills and vocational training, computer and information technology, and advocacy. “We are in touch with the youth of Sierra Leone and their problems virtually on a daily basis,” it says. To support its programs across the nation, Sierra Leone YMCA owns and operates institutional investments including hostels, restaurants and other recreational facilities; these revenues are augmented by funding and other support from groups including the Missoula Y, YMCA International, Comic Relief (U.K.) and CVJM (West Bund, Germany).