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Records of YMCA international work in Kenya

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-31


Correspondence, minutes, reports, building plans, financial documents, pamphlets, journal and newspaper articles and other records of the YMCA movement in Kenya, especially Nairobi and the surrounding area, including Shauri Moyo, Mombasa, Kisii, Limuru, Ngecha, Naivasha and Nakuru, though other locations are also mentioned. The collection focuses on the time period when the United States was most active in Kenya; the years 1955 to 1993. Early history of the YMCA in Kenya, pre-1950, is discussed primarily as historical information in reports, not as first hand experience in any of the correspondence. Correspondence and reports make particular reference to Thomas Kay, Charles M. Lewis, Robbins Strong, Charles C. Kujawa, Francis N. Gathani, James C. B. Thomson, Boyd Gilman, James Poole, Alfredo Wood, Albert Schwarz and Fritz Pawelzik.

Much of the collection post-1980 consists of annual reports and copies of the Kenyan YMCA magazine as well as programs that were in place that included United States involvement such as the Development Management Training Program, the Leadership Development Program, the Trilateral Work Camp/Seminar, The YMCA Crafts Training Center, the Nakuru YMCA Recreation Program, the Chavakali Integrated Rural Community Development Project, the Oloiyiankalani Dispensary and Water Project, the Swim Project with Chicago IL, the Naivasha Squatters Self Help Project and the Limuru Boys' Center Project, among others.

The portion of the collection focusing on the programs that were in place in Kenya also deals with the agencies that supported them. Much of the United States assistance was focused through agencies other than just the United States YMCA. These agencies, listed in the collection, primarily consisted of but are not limited to, CODEL (Coordination in Development), CORAT (Christian Organizations Research Advisory Trust) and USAID or AID (United States Agency for International Development). YMCA sponsored programs used for international development in Kenya specifically listed in this collection are the International Camp Counselor Exchange and the Young Ambassadors Program as well as the YMCA National Development Program.


  • 1955-1993


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

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The YMCA movement in Kenya began in 1910 when United States president Theodore Roosevelt gave 1000 pounds for the construction of a hostel for young European boys coming to Nairobi. Kenya was a British colony and the YMCA movement at the time mainly served European expatriates, immigrants and refugees. J. J. P. Curnow, a British General Secretary, was sent to manage the YMCA, his expenses being met by the British Y. During the first world war, the Nairobi YMCA was taken over by the Overseas Forces YMCA and later it was again managed by a local board of management. In 1923 the financial support from the British YMCA was interrupted due to the world-wide financial depression and the activities of the YMCA diminished. The YMCA was discontinued in 1932 due to lack of funds and leadership. The government took over the building; property and assets were sold and proceeds were held by the government against the re-establishment of the association.

Though there were no organized activities, the YMCA also did some work in Kenya during the second world war. In 1943, through the War Prisoners' Aid of the World Alliance and the assistance of a World Alliance staff member Alfredo Wood, the YMCA began work among the Italian prisoners of war in 58 camps throughout Kenya. Among many other activities, a YMCA hut was opened at Nairobi as a center for members of the armed forces.

In 1947, post World War II, the British sent fraternal secretary Tom Kay to develop additional Kenyan YMCA work as a missionary enterprise of the British National Councils. The first two hostels in Nairobi, the Nairobi Central YMCA and Shauri Moyo, were completed by 1950 and intended to accommodate youth. Subsequently, a swimming pool was added and accommodation was increased to 100 beds at the Nairobi Central YMCA. In Shauri Moyo, a youth center was added in 1965.

In the middle of 1950 work started in rural areas; mainly in the central province, and there were programs specifically at Murang'a, Nyeri, Limuru, Meru, Kaimbu and Ngewa. Local secretaries were employed and the YMCA increased in number and programs. By the end of 1957 there were fourteen YMCAs covering 27 villages within the triangle of Ngecha, Kabete and Kambui. In 1960, forty acres of land were acquired on the southern shores of Lake Naivasha where a camp was officially opened in 1962.

In 1960 arrangements were made for the inauguration of a Kenyan National Movement and a Kenyan constitution was adopted. The Kenya YMCA also became a full member of the World Alliance of YMCAs.This same year the urban population of educated youths was growing and the YMCA opened more centers. Two more hostels were started in Mombasa and Nakuru and the YMCA Naivasha Camp was built with the help of an international work camp which included North American youth. In 1962 the YMCA opened a Farm Training school in Limuru in order to train young Africans in modern farming methods. The center supplied coursework in all branches of agriculture with the intention that many of the young men would return to their families' small farms and introduce these modern methods to their communities. By 1962 the YMCA in Kenya was heading towards its peak of operation.

In 1963 the YMCA in Kenya became concerned about the widening gap between male and female education. There was a need to train young women in the domestic services and in nutrition so the Women's Training Center was established at Kiambu. The YMCA hoped that the young women returning from the year long program might not only improve their skills and knowledge, but in turn pass on what they had learned to a wider constituency in their home villages. The center was moved to Limuru in 1965.

As the nation of Kenya moved towards its political independence in 1963, the YMCA in Kenya showed a decline. The two hostels in Mombasa and Nakuru were closed and the properties sold. In 1965 the Farm Training School was discontinued. The YMCA's role in youth work declined rapidly due to the development of many church youth movements with denominational biases. It was clear to YMCA leaders that the future of the movement depended on its youth so in 1965 the Kenya YMCA asked the German YMCA for fraternal assistance to revitalize its youth work. The German Y sent Albert Schwarz and the Youth in Industry program was started. The YMCA was able to work with young people in technical and industrial institutions in Kenya. Social and educational activities were features of the program, including Christian forums, seminars, conferences, holiday camps, and sports. It served youth in all sorts of academic, technical, and professional institutions. By the end of the 1960s the Youth in Industry had developed as part of a vocational training project, later on becoming the Crafts Training Center located in Shauri Moyo, Nairobi. This center trained young people in various technical skills; leather work, ceramics, woodwork, fine art and cabinetmaking. The home industries and co-operatives sponsored by the Center were included as part of the Center's extension program to rural communities.

In the late 1960s the YMCA administration was in transition from expatriate to African management. Though the old administration was very effective, it had a paternalistic approach to people and activities. The desire was to put Africans in charge and to make the YMCA in Kenya more African in nature. Hostels became program centers and camp activities began to take place. Rural units also began to develop into self-reliable branches. The largest issue was finding qualified staff to train further for leadership roles. A Leadership Development Program was undertaken with the backing of the World Alliance of YMCAs. Designed to inform, motivate and involve members to take a lead in the development of relevant services to Kenyan people and communities, it proved a successful program. Vocational training also continued on to be a very popular and useful program for the Kenyan population. The courses in later years diversified from the academic and technical professions to include accounting, secretarial and computer training.

In 1973 the Kenya YMCA allocated small strips of land on its campsite for the cultivation of vegetable crops for squatter families located in the Naivasha area This Naivasha Squatters Self Help Project helped to provide an adequate amount of food to a number of these squatter families to supply vegetables for a cash income and home consumption. This program provided a non-formal style of education in the activity of cultivating these crops and opportunity for the development of community run self help organizations in the Naivasha area. The Kenyan YMCA also, through this program, worked to promote sports such as football, basketball, volleyball, table tennis and etcetera for enjoyment and competition among the squatters.

The involvement of the YMCA of the United States started in the 1960s and continued into the 2000s. This connection fundamentally existed through the United States' assistance to Kenya's various YMCA projects. The United States contributed partially through programs such as the YMCA National Development Program, International Camp Counselor Exchange, the Young Ambassadors Program, and USAID or United States Agency for International Development. Many of these programs contributed to projects already in place, contributed via student exchange or donated to mini-development projects. The Oloiyiankalani Dispensary and Water project was one such project. It was partially sponsored by CODEL (Coordination in Development) through the United States YMCA. This project supplied water and medical services to the Oloiyiankalani community, within walking distance, in order to reduce long journeys made by people in the community in order to reach the nearest medical treatment center. It also meant to motivate people to improve the water conditions for both human and livestock use and to introduce nutritional and child care education to mothers. This project was introduced in 1981. Other programs such as the Nakuru Recreation Program with Monroe County Family YMCA, the Trilateral Work Camp Seminar with Hannover, Germany and Reading Pennsylvania and the swim program with Chicago, IL carried on through the 1980s, 90s and into the 2000s.

By 2010 the YMCA in Kenya maintained the Shauri Moyo, Nairobi Central, Mombasa, Meru, Nyeri, Githumu, Indaglasia, Kisii, Kakamega, Guatine, Kondo, Kibera, Lumurul Center, Ngecha, Mugona, Naivasha, Kisumu, Chavakali, Busia, Kilifi, Githumu, Eldoret and Nakuru branches as well as the Shauri Moyo, Nairobi Central and Nairobi South Hostels, the Limuru Agricultural Center, the Naivasha Camp and the National Training Institute. The Kenyan YMCA also retained membership in the African Alliance of YMCAs, the World Alliance of YMCAs and the Y's Men International while maintaining its focus on social justice and communities within Kenya and especially with greater emphasis on women and children.

The following is a list of individuals who served as YMCA secretaries in Uganda along with their dates of service:

Doxzon, Steve (1976-1979) Glenn, Kim (1978-1980)
Gilman, Boyd (1980-1982) Jacobson, Jill (1987-1989)
Historical information largely adapted and quoted from "Kenya YMCA,"(web, 2010, and from the collection.


.9 Cubic Feet (2 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, building plans, financial documents, pamphlets, journal and newspaper articles and other records of the YMCA movement in Kenya, especially Nairobi and the surrounding area, including Shauri Moyo, Mombasa, Kisii, Limuru, Ngecha, Naivasha and Nakuru, though other locations are also mentioned.

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.


Biographical information on some of the secretaries involved YMCA work in Kenya (see list of individuals in the historical note) is available in the YMCA Biographical Files, separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, February 2009, as collection FP051. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number:

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Melanie Doherty.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area