2020 brought massive disruption to the YMCA Movement and to millions of young people.
But while some of our programmes and facilities may have closed for a period in 2020, the YMCA itself is never closed.
Our collective thanks are due to the host of staff and volunteers, many of them young people, who stood and delivered.
We responded with Resilience, with Recovery, with Reimagination. With flexibility – pivoting and adapting where we had to. And with total solidarity: all over the world – at the local, national, regional and global levels – YMCAs supported each other to keep jobs open, rents paid, and services running.
And one of the results of 2020 was a reinforced realisation of who we are. We are more than a social welfare institution; we are more than ‘gym and swim’. We are a social justice movement, at the heart of building resilience in young people and their communities, and tackling injustice and inequality.
We are needed as much as ever.
And in the face of so many global challenges, I strongly believe that we are actually stronger for what happened to us in 2020, a year in which real YMCA steel was forged on the anvil of real suffering.
And we can say, with Saint John, that ‘the light has shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’.
We can be grateful that Covid-19 has taught us not just the imperative of change, but the opportunities to be found in change.
We have the opportunity to become the 21st Century organisation which is the world’s partner of choice in empowering young people.
By engaging with young people where they are, not waiting for them to come to us.
By doubling down on our mission and purpose; and by reimagining our programmes and services in health, in employment, in environment and civic engagement where we need to, and ensuring that they are available to all.
Dear friends, 2021 will be another hugely important year.
The world can come through the Covid-19 health crisis if it rolls out vaccination: YMCA will support the process, and will call for the vaccine to be available equally and easily, not to some but to all.
And the world can come through the Covid-19 economic crisis, if it puts young people at the centre of its planning. YMCA will continue to equip young people for the world of work.
But the real vaccine needs to bring about a once-and-for-all end to injustice and inequality, everywhere …
… and a once-and-for-all commitment to the young people who are the world’s future, and its present.
Young people have to be at the centre of the world’s great post-Covid ‘reset’.
There is a Chinese proverb that says: “A falling tree makes more noise than a growing forest”.
Covid-19 brought down YMCA trees in 2020, and it felled the global trees of false certainty, pride and entitlement.
But in 2020, amidst crisis, YMCA planted important seeds, and in 2021 I believe we are going to see the forest growing all over the global YMCA Movement.
So that’s our YMCA mission – to reimagine ourselves, for a reimagined future for young people.
To YMCA and to all, I wish us all strength, all resilience, all purpose in 2021.
Carlos Sanvee, World YMCA Secretary General