With over 356 million 10-24 year-olds, India has the worlds youngest population, where then could be more relevant for the worlds largest youth charity, the YMCA? YMCA in India helps people in over 1,000 communities across the country and in May myself, Lee Abbas (YMCA Plymouth staff member) and Vic Hibbert (Trustee) had the once in a life-time opportunity to visit the local YMCA of Bareilly in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The visit, supported by the YMCA South West Trust fund, enabled us to learn about the work of YMCA in India, and build on YMCA Plymouth’s partnership with YMCA Bareilly. The following report is a brief summary of some of what we experienced.
Touching down in Delhi, we were greeted by Mr Noel Masih, General Secretary of YMCA Bareilly, a familiar face from our many prior Skype meetings . We headed to our first stop, YMCA New Delhi. While there we were able to see their vast Education and fitness facilities and meet there friendly and welcoming staff and senior leadership team. We had positive discussions with their team about opportunities for us to work together with our fitness and training provisions. In New Delhi we also took the time to visit National Council of Indian YMCAs where we were fortunate to meet the Indian YMCA National General Secretary to discuss their work on a national level.
Before departing Delhi we visited the social enterprise ‘Café Healthilicious’, supported by YMCA Bareilly, where they’re working to change attitudes in healthy eating and lifestyle by offering affordable, fast food that’s good for you. Plus, it tastes great too! Their model of being partnered with the local leisure centre means they can educate people on healthy living on all levels while offering nutritional plans for individuals and even show them how to prepare their own healthy food at home.
Arriving at YMCA Bareilly we received the warmest of welcomes from their board members and staff and had the amazing opportunity to join them for a YMCA event bringing together local musicians, dancers, comedians, and the community for a celebration of local culture. At the event, we also presented a gift on behalf of YMCA Plymouth with the help of our IT partners, Netlogix, a Windows 10 laptop for the to use for their office and teaching purposes where they were previously only equipped with a typewriter.
After spending time with the YMCA Bareilly team and learning about their work we headed to a YMCA youth centre and medical facility located in the foothills of the Himalayas. While there YMCA Bareilly hosted a 10K race, the first of its kind in the region, and something they hope will become an annual event. On the day we helped the team produce pamphlets for local people giving them simple tips for staying fit and healthy, before putting on the running shoes ourselves and heading to the start line. After the race, a storm hit the YMCA campsite leaving everyone stranded and running for cover, but in true YMCA fashion, the show went on with medals and certificates being presented and the YMCA team putting on food while we waited for the fallen trees to be cleared from the road so we could head back to the youth centre.
At the YMCA Youth centre we had the chance to see their medical team and outreach staff where the YMCA provides free healthcare to the rural people. Many people travel far, sometimes for days on foot, to reach the centre and while there they are freely proscribed medicine by professional doctors we also have facilities to test for a variety of diseases. The YMCA also use their mobile clinic and ambulance to travel to hard to reach villages themselves to provide healthcare to those who otherwise have no access to healthcare in remote areas.
From this inspiring work, we then had the chance to see some of the inspiring sights by taking some time to travel into the hills and lakes in the surrounding area where YMCA take young people from Bareilly and offer a range of outdoor activities including boating and paragliding.
Back in the city of Bareilly we were fortunate to enough to spend time with YMCA members a involved in preserving the Christian heritage in the city. One such person is a member and ex-secretary of YMCA Bareilly who is the custodian of St Stephens church, a stunning church built in the British period that YMCA Members have ensured is preserved and still has an active communion to this day.
Continuing into the spiritual side of things we learned of the interfaith work being done by YMCA Bareilly and visited various sites of the many religions in the city including a Hindu temple, Sikh Gurdwara and Muslim Mosque. We were warmly received in all and had time to discuss the work of faith groups in the city, including YMCA, to help build bridges between communities to foster understanding and respect through dialogue and working together.
From spirituality to sport, we were up and out on the Bareilly sports ground at 5.30am to catch the cool(er) early morning air and see young people taking part in a free summer football camp. The camp run by the YMCA had over 80 young people taking part. Getting that many teenagers out of bed at that time of the morning alone should be seen as an achievement!
Later, we were able to take part in a swimming workshop, where people young and old were getting lessons in an activity that is still growing in its popularity in India and the YMCA is trying to help promote.
Our final highlight was visiting a rural village on the outskirts of Bareilly where the YMCA is due to begin a three-year health and education programme. The programme will expand upon previous successful programmes ran in another villages, whereby locals are trained through workshops on a range issues such as women’s empowerment, HIV aids, alcohol abuse and epilepsy awareness. In addition, young people are taught IT skills, English language, and sports activities are run by the YMCA.
As a result of the visit to the village we discussed with YMCA Bareilly plans to link our students in Plymouth with their peers in the village using technology and other means to enable students to learn about each others way of life, and help with the English language component of the programme. We hope this will be the start of a programme we can expand working towards a possible student exchange in the future.
We topped off spending time at the YMCA Bareilly office before heading back making a final obligatory tourist stop, seeing the Taj Mahal, a beautiful way to finish our journey seeing one of the 7 wonders of the world.
The real wonder of our journey however, was the people we met every day and the fantastic hospitality and warmth we received everywhere we went. The YMCA, first and foremost is an organisation led by the hardworking people looking to make their community a better place and help those in need, and that was the spirit we encountered throughout our time in India. YMCA Bareilly are an inspiring example of how a small YMCA can make such a big impact through the hard work and genuine kindness of their members.
Overall our time with YMCA Bareilly was truly inspiring and we are thankful to all their members and staff who we had the pleasure to spend time with along the way. We’re really excited to take forward the opportunities to develop work between our YMCAs and can’t wait to welcome them to Plymouth in the near future.