The direction is forward and upwards! This is my summary after having visited 8 Central American and Caribbean national YMCAs. Every single one of the visits were successful. What do I mean by the word successful? I mean that every single YMCA showed me their true realities and they all left me impressed and full of admiration. They are all serving children and young people and their local communities in ways which are changing the lives of thousands of human beings – changing their lives into better lives, lives with hope and joy, lives lived with smiles and dignity. Often in extreme poverty, often against all odds, but through the YMCA, because of the YMCA, with hope, with future perspectives, with blessings from above. The sun was shining all through the 30 days, the weather was warm, sometimes too warm for people from Geneva, but we felt warm and glad and proud because of our YMCA friends in these countries under the sun. My heart goes out to all of you with unlimited thanks and gratitudes – your friendship is held dearly and your hospitality was experienced in all its splendor and generosity. Gracias Carlos, Gracias Xenia, Gracias Andres! Thank you Gwenael, Gracias Ernesto, Gracias Hector, Thank you Greg! I will forever remember the days and evenings we spent together – I am proud to belong to the same movement as you!
These are a few of the many highlights from a fantastic journey through 8 countries. Carlos from Nicaragua showed us Managua and the youth centres there,
and he took us to the countryside, over almost not drivable roads, to farmers and young people in the rural areas where YMCA is teaching and coaching modern agricultural projects. We need to tell the stories of these fabulous rural projects!
Xenia from Costa Rica in front of the YMCA camp run in collaboration with the Cooperative movement, a highly interesting partner for wider circles of the YMCA!
Xenia’s young leaders gave us a presentation we will remember for a very long time. Servant leadership and deep motivation to change the lives of children and youth. It was a great experience to talk with these young leaders of the YMCA!
Lourdes from Panama leading her board members into a better future for Panama and its young population. The highlight in Panama
was to visit and experience the modern, state of the art YMCA school where kids are offered all education in English language, a very popular offer. YMCA Panama has paid back all debts and is going towards sustainable running of a very huge and important programme for young people.
Andres from Dominican Republic – the true story of his life is told in one photo. Behind him one of the many houses he is building for poor people in the village of Nizao, and in his arm one of the boys from the neighborhood – trusting Uncle Andres with a smile born of safety and joy.
Four of these schools are organized under Andre’s leadership, and I never get tired of walking amongst those smiling kids and cashing in more appreciation than I will ever deserve, just because I am representing the very respectful and beloved movement of YMCA. I build motivation and faith in what we are doing for years to come!
Gwenael from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thank you for all the great conversations we had and for showing us around a Haiti still marked by the earthquake, but in growing hope and through the YMCA programmes including so many children and youth a future perspective is growing for so many Haitians!
I shall keep with me the images of Gwenael’s container YMCAs. It is a genius idea, excellent for the climate, these containers are cool during the day and warm at night, and for a very low and affordable price offered excellent community centres for a population in need of training and self confidence building. Congratulations, Gwenael and all you good board members of Haiti YMCA!
Ernesto of Mexico YMCA – Gracias for your and Mexico’s super hospitality, both to the traveling team from Geneva as well as to the 50 big group of National General Secretaries having our annual meeting in beautiful Camp Camohmila.
Here above the happy group of National General Secretaries. What a meeting we had – bringing us all forward in great leaps. Thank you to all of you who came and invested your time and love and care and engagement in these fabulous days we had together. It was a great inspiration and encouragement!
The camp fire illustrated so many of the traditional and important values of the YMCA, values that have been driving us forward and kept us vividly alive and strong through 171 years.
And one highlight from all the Mexican YMCA programmes we experienced. the children who taught us about tolerance through their puppet theater at one of the YMCA centres.
Over to the beautiful and fascinating island of Cuba where Hector is the NGS and welcoming us to his combined church and YMCA in the centre of Havana. How we enjoyed the days in Havana, the big group of baseball playing kids, the young people singing and dancing and being members of the youth training club, the kids at the social outreach centres in the outskirts of Havana and the Tai Chi members of senior citizens at the YMCA centre downtown Havana. 25 years has Hector and his board kept the YMCA running in the middle of a communist regime. Hector has been and still is one of the most courageous leaders of the YMCA in the world, and free as any of us. He choose never to leave his island, and he has lived a life in freedom. Often a challenging life, and never in abundance of anything but smiles and joy and friendship. I admire you, Hector!
One of the Tai Chi members will represent the highlights of Cuba, together with the unavoidable, beautiful and so impressive
veteran cars of Havana. How could I leave them out of the highlights of 30 days traveling through Caribbean and Central America?
From Cuba to Cayman Islands and Greg, the NGS/CEO of the YMCA of Cayman Islands. We met all Greg’s friends and contacts on the island, and they are many. Greatly helped by the Board Chair and founder, Pastor Randy von Kanel, we met 75-80 donors, supporters and founding members of the YMCA one evening. Amongst them were two ministers of the Government, high ranking members of the private sector and personalities of cultural life on the islands. We met local heroes and young athletes, we met
The Little League of baseball players in the YMCA, after school kids, teachers at different schools and community leaders. We met with the Deputy Governor and had a meeting with the Premier lined up, but he had to cancel last minute because of a disastrous fire that broke out the same morning. The newest YMCA in the family of 119, and a YMCA growing fast and already in good shape.
I end with the beauty of these lands, the fascinating natural richness, of the flowers and fruit and mountains and volcanoes and the wide open sea. I have seen more than what ordinary tourists ever get to see in Central America and the Caribbean, and I have met with the people of the streets and the far away rural villages, met with people from the elite and the top of the societies and met with women and youth and elderly people struggling in extreme poverty. In-between all those people and rooted in all this natural beauty I found YMCAs in all sizes and colors and shapes, in small huts and containers, in modern school palaces and in old buildings of historic value and rich sports centres and poor school buildings.
In all of those YMCAs I found staff and volunteers, leaders and board members with whom I got immediately a warm friendship and hugs and kisses. We are all members of a proud movement of serving leaders, and we share the same values wherever we are, in whatever place we call home on the beautiful planet Earth. Wherever I went, I also met the blessings of our Lord and the presence of our brother Jesus Christ. From the bottom of my heart I say thank you to my hosts and friends over the last 30 days and wishing sailing wind for the YMCAs in the great countries of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Cuba and Cayman Islands! God bless you all!
Try to click on or put this link into your web reader and you will see a TV interview from Cayman Islands from Monday this week.