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YMCA World Service international work films

Identifier: Y.USA.9-9


Films produced by the YMCA's World Service program documenting its work in developing countries around the world, including the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Many depict daily life in communities on the verge of being transformed by globalization and the policies of the Cold War. Others articulate the strategy and desire of the North American YMCA to conduct this work. A few document the work of the YMCA to alleviate the worst aspects of the daily life of refugees. Many of the productions were filmed and directed by American photographer Bob Frers.


  • Creation: circa 1950-1980


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Use of Materials:

This collection from the YMCA of the USA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. See for additional information.


From the founding of the YMCA, the leaders of the American and British movements believed in the idea of universal Christian brotherhood and the power of their evangelical mission to transcend national boundaries. In 1886, the initial steps towards the organization of an international movement were begun at the first Student Christian Conference at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, where a group of one hundred students signed a pledge to participate in volunteer work in foreign countries. The conference at Mount Hermon, in addition to requests for assistance from missionaries in India, led YMCA leaders to organize the International Convention in Philadelphia in 1889, which would formally establish the basis of YMCA international work. It was agreed that the YMCA's International Committee (the governing body for YMCA work in the United States and Canada) should work to establish associations staffed by trained secretaries in foreign lands. These fraternal secretaries would help the associations to become self-sustaining, self-governing, and self-propagating; secretaries were to help acquire buildings, recruit and train native staff, and perform special educational and administrative duties. In 1889, a subcommittee was organized to oversee international work, which was known as the Foreign Department or the Foreign Committee.

By 1900, eighteen YMCA secretaries were serving in India, Japan, Brazil, China, and Ceylon. The movement gained popularity at such a rate that requests for fraternal secretaries quickly outpaced the existing funds – demand from associations in China and India was particularly pronounced. YMCA international work continued to flourish during the first decade of the twentieth century, with 106 fraternal secretaries serving in fourteen nations and Puerto Rico by 1910. Importantly, YMCA international work was successful in developing native leadership; by the end of the decade, about one hundred native secretaries were working in YMCA associations around the world. Following the first world war, the movement shifted from missionary-driven evangelism to a have a greater focus on social welfare and departmentalized specializations, giving attention to physical activities, health, education, and boys' work. As buildings were erected and national committees were firmly established, greater focus was placed on sending specialized secretaries abroad who had experience in specific areas, such as student work and physical education. By 1925, YMCA international work had reached its highpoint with 229 fraternal secretaries serving alongside 693 native secretaries.

The International Committee was integrated into the YMCA's National Council in 1936, and the Foreign Department was renamed the World Service. The National Council was reorganized in 1950, and the International Committee was dissolved to make way for a new International Committee that administered the World Service of both the United States and Canada. In 1958, the International Committee launched an immense fundraising campaign known as the Buildings for Brotherhood program, which raised $5.5 million in the United States and Canada, while another $12.5 million was raised abroad. In all, the program led to the construction 112 new buildings in 35 different nations around the world. In 1968, the YMCA joined with other service organizations in attending the first World Consultation on Management and International Development in Geneva, which heightened the International Committee's focus on development work around the world.

The United States and Canada began to administer separate World Service programs in 1970, leading to the formation of the International Division under the National Board, which was established to replace the International Committee of the USA and Canada. This new division made a renewed commitment to pursue a program of international development. In 1973, the YMCA began its relationship with USAID after the development agency made a $1.2 million grant to the International Division. Between 1976 and 1986, the YMCA received a total of $19.2 million for international development work from USAID. As a result of increased funding for development grants and the training of native secretaries, the number of YMCA fraternal secretaries serving abroad had declined to twenty by 1972.

[Historical information largely adapted from the collection, as well as 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 LaTourette.]


47 films


Films produced by the YMCA's World Service program documenting its work in developing countries around the world, including the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia.


See also YMCA Internationa Administrative Work Records (Y.USA.9-1) and records of YMCA international work in various countries, all separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Digitized, primarily from the original 16mm film as well as VHS video (also available in the collection), in 2015 as part of the University of Minnesota Libraries Strategic Digitization Program.

An Inventory of Its Films
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
Language of description
Script of description
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area