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Records of YMCA international work in Ethiopia

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-37


Includes correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, maps, pamphlets, journal and newspaper articles and other records of YMCA international work in Ethiopia. Early documentation discusses social, recreational and educational activities such as athletic teams, informal recreation programs, dramatic clubs, religious programs, Bible classes, lectures, health education programs, cinema programs, basic science classes such as astronomy, and handicraft classes such as woodworking, metal work, carving, mimeograph and printing. Later records discuss other services such as self-help community development activities , rural youth vocational training, social education, creative arts classes, adult education, camp programs, YMCA leadership training, celebration of national holidays, sunday school, counseling, free literacy classes for adults, an emphasis in and on the library, and peer leadership programs.

The material documents the development and growth of the YMCA in Ethiopia, including the involvement that Emperor Haile Selassie had with the association and his donation of land and his own time. Much of the collection also discusses the community work that was done by the YMCA in order to improve the problems in various areas, particularly drought relief efforts that took place in the Wollo province in the mid 1970 and famine relief, primarily focused on supplying medicine food and clothing to displaced children. The Ethiopian Resettlement Project supplied temporary homes and latrines to the displaced streaming into Dessie the capital of Wollo. Other topics covered in the collection include fundraising events to keep the YMCA in place in Ethiopia and the nationalization of Ethiopian businesses, including the YMCA, putting an end to the North American involvement. There is some material in the collection discussing the potential of reopening a YMCA in Ethiopia but no confirmation of the outcome.


  • 1940-1986
  • Majority of material found within ( late 1940s-1970s)


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

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Plans to start YMCA work in Ethiopia began in 1947 as the idea of Michael Wassef, an Egyptian YMCA secretary, a member of the Cairo YMCA, and supervisor for physical education in the Ethiopian government's school system. The National Council of the YMCA in Ethiopia was organized with the help of Naguib Kelada, James K. Quay. Wassef's initial plan was developed with the encouragement and intense interest of Emperor Haile Selassie I, and representative citizens of the community. It was also made possible through the support of the North American YMCA. Active programs were in place as of 1949. An Ethiopian YMCA constitution was drafted and adopted in 1950 and endorsed and made into law by Selassie in 1951. During the early years the YMCA in Ethiopia operated in quarters at the Arat Kilo. The central YMCA in Addis Ababa was officially opened in 1955 by the Emperor. Able-bodied, well-educated, enthusiastic and devoted to his work, Wassef introduced social, recreational and educational activities including athletic teams, informal recreation programs, dramatic clubs, religious programs, bible classes, lectures and cinema programs. Though he had a strong association already, Wassef was anxious to have the assistance that a North American secretary assigned to Ethiopia would bring.

Merlin A. Bishop was the first North American secretary sent to Ethiopia. He arrived in 1951 and initially began a program for health education. By 1953 it reached more than 200,000 people with information and demonstrations on nutrition and hygiene. Bishop also introduced natural sciences such as astronomy and handicraft classes such as woodwork, metalwork, carving, mimeograph and printing. Bishop also recruited and kept on three local secretaries by 1954. In 1955, when the Addis Ababa YMCA building was officially opened, Marvin J. Ludwig was sent to assist the program in Ethiopia.

The expansion of the YMCA took place by request of communities asking for the YMCA services. The Ambo Student Center was begun in 1955 in cooperation with the program of the Ambo Agricultural School. The Asmara YMCA was opened in 1960, Adwa opened its YMCA in 1961. The first additional branch of the Addis Ababa Central YMCA was opened in 1962 in the market area. Work in Bahr Dar was opened in 1963 as well as the second additional branch of the central YMCA. In late 1963 work was begun in Dire Dawa. The fourth central branch YMCA in Addis Ababa, the Foundation YMCA was opened in 1964 and the Debre Berhan Student Center was opened in 1965. By 1967 there was fifteen Ethiopian secretaries, two fraternal secretaries, two buildings owned, five buildings rented, and three buildings used rent free.

In 1967 there were programs in YMCA leadership, club leadership, physical education leadership, crafts teaching, counselling, guidance, boys' work, handicraft, a future citizens' club and the desire to develop a stronger camping program. There were adult education programs that included literacy classes, mass education, dramas and lectures. Religious programs were regularly organized around the holidays and festivals of the Orthodox church and also conducted regular World Week of prayer programs in cooperation with the World Alliance and the local Orthodox church. The YMCA in Ethiopia also had a regular radio program on Saturday afternoons and a TV program on Saturday evenings. In 1964 the Ethiopian YMCA was the first agency to receive the Haile Selassie First Prize Trust Award for "Outstanding Achievements in Humanitarian Activities."

In 1973 the province of Wollo in Ethiopia was seriously affected by drought. This drought caused a massive flow of displaced and starving people to travel to the capital of the Wollo province, Dessie. Dessie, which was already suffering a 55 percent rate of unemployment, was unequipped to handle the massive flow of new population. The YMCA quickly set up shop in Dessie providing relief services to these dispossessed people. They set up temporary housing, provided children with food and medicine and built latrines in town as to avoid illness that poor hygiene was bound to create. The YMCA focused its attention on the supplying of clothing and medicine. There was a campaign in Addis Ababa and other areas to collect used clothing. The YMCA saved the lives of at least 250 abandoned and orphaned children in Bati, a drought-hit town within the province of Wollo.

The YMCA in 1975 also focused its energies on self help community development activities and farming programs. The rural development program's purpose was to improve the existing conditions of subsistence farming, to improve the living conditions of farmers, to develop community self-help organizations and to upgrade the education level of the farming population.

In 1976 a military regime took power in Ethiopia and all companies began to be nationalized. This limited the YMCA's ability to gather its funding, which prior to this had been eighty percent covered by the contributions of local businesses. The YMCA began to ask the International Committee and the North American YMCA for assistance as well as the Ethiopian government. Shortly thereafter, in 1977, the Ethiopian government decided to also nationalize the Ethiopian YMCA. All sixteen branches and twelve buildings were taken over by the government and the local staff was retained by the government as well. At this point the association for all intensive purposes was dissolved.

In 1992 the Ethiopian YMCA was reestablished by the Ethiopian government. It was developed as a volunteer-led association with programs on HIV/AIDS awareness, street children education, physical fitness and character building training. It became a full member of the World Alliance of YMCAs in 2006.

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

Bishop, Merlin Asa (1951-1960) Manchester, Owen D. (1967-1970)
Eveland, John Charles (1965-1966) McCann, Alan (1960-1963)
Houser, Norris D. (1971-1974) McClure, Carl (1970-1971)
Lineweaver, Norris David (1968-1969) Smythe, John (1963-1967)
Ludwig, Marvin Jay (1955-1968)
Historical information largely adapted and quoted from World Service: A History of the Foreign Work and World Service of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States and Canada, (New York: Association Press, 1957) by Kenneth Scott Latourette, from the collection and from "YMCA International, World Alliance of YMCAs, Ethiopia" (


2.8 Cubic Feet (8 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, maps, pamphlets, journal and newspaper articles and other records of YMCA international work in Ethiopia, documenting the development and growth of the YMCA in Ethiopia, including the involvement that Emperor Haile Selassi, as well as relief work.


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

Personal papers of Marvin J. Ludwig are separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, February 2009, as collection FP018. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 6412113

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