Address:     263 45th Street
Year built:   1960s/70s
Architect:    Captain Kyu Kyaw

A stone’s throw from the Secretariat, the YMCA occupies this large modern complex on the corner of Thein Phyu and Mahabandoola Roads. The entrance itself is in the narrow alleyway behind the petrol station on Thein Phyu Road. Supposedly, a kickboxing centre on the ground floor is the only one in Yangon where anyone—local or foreign—can watch or even join a session.

The English YMCA arrived in Burma in 1897; an American branch was set up two years later. These were led by, and gave priority to, the expatriate community rather than the local Christian population. There was a dedicated branch, however, catering to Indians. The YMCA had a number of buildings around town and moved premises several times.

Latticed windows angled towards the North protect the interior from the sun

A national leadership emerged in the 1940s, before independence. Several other YMCA chapters were set up throughout the country during that period. After independence, the National Council of YMCAs joined the global YMCA structure in 1953.

The organisation survived many hardships over the years. It faced generalised mistrust stemming from its colonial origins. (A Young Men’s Buddhist Association, or YMBA, emerged a short decade after the YMCA in 1906. A General Council of Burmese Associations, borne out of the YMBA, became a potent vehicle for anti-colonial sentiment in the 1920s.) During the war the Japanese turned one of its buildings into a “comfort station”. Their military coerced women from across occupied East Asia here—including some 500 Burmese. As a result of the Second World War, according to YMCA International records, “the damage to YMCA property was devastating; all of the buildings and records were destroyed”. The organisation had to begin again from scratch. In the 1960s, the YMCA lost several properties all over again, as a result of the dictatorship’s nationalisation programme.

A petrol station occupies the plot towards Thein Pyu Road

Today there are about 25 YMCA chapters throughout the country—predominantly in Kachin, Chin and Shan states, which have significant Christian populations. The YMCA also operates charitable programmes for young people and the elderly. They raise awareness of human rights and environmental issues as well.

The building contains a church on the fourth floor. In Yangon, a second YMCA hostel is located on Lanmadaw Road.