As the world continues to become more interconnected, Y USA has committed to engaging in activities and programs that promote global awareness and engagement. The University YMCA has taken this idea to heart with both locally focused programs as well as international work in Sierra Leone. The YMCA has begun forging a strong partnership with the local YMCA in Kenema, SL. Our work focuses on needs identified by the Kenema YMCA and local leadership and includes three main areas: Youth development and job training, water projects, and mental health.

The University YMCA continues to serve as a connecting link between students, community members, organizations, and our international partners at the YMCA of Sierra Leone. Through these connections, the Y fosters the growth of the next generation of globally-minded leaders and promotes partnership-based strategies in community development.


Current Projects

Youth Development and Job Training

The YMCA in Kenema runs a job training program for local youth which provides courses in brick laying, agriculture, carpentry, and tailoring. However, YMCA-Kenema has identified a need to better develop the employment opportunities following this job training.

The University Y has collaborated with carpenters in the Champaign-Urbana area and sent a delegation to Sierra Leone this past May to help reinforce the job training and help build chairs, desks, and other furniture with locally sourced wood with plans to sell these products to local businesses and nonprofits. By creating a business which students can participate in during their training, this initiative helps to not only provide skills, but also experience to reinforce the road from training to employment.

The delegation included students from the University of Illinois Enactus organization. Enactus is a local branch of a national organization focused on developing entrepreneurial young minds. These students helped to initiate a business plan for the carpentry business and worked to develop ideas for future expansion while in Sierra Leone through collaboration with the community and its leaders.


Water Projects

Access to fresh drinking water in outlying villages and towns in Sierra Leone is a major concern for both the health and well-being of residents. Water is essential for life, and access to water in rural areas is under constant threat.

Through collaboration with the Kenema YMCA, the need for a well near a local school identified. This well would serve to provide fresh water to students, staff, and the local community, ensuring ease of access and supporting daily activities. We are happy to announce that funding has been secured through collaborations with the Urbana Rotary. With this support, the area is expected to be surveyed and a date set for the start of construction.

The YMCA-Kenema has identified a network of possible well locations across Sierra Leone where people are in need of reliable access to freshwater. With further support, we hope to expand our initial project more project sites.


Mental Health

Following the Ebola outbreak in 2014, stigma surrounding survivors as well as the victims’ families has been evident. This has led to significant mental health concerns throughout West Africa and Sierra Leone.

One of our PhD candidates from the University of Illinois has begun important work  documenting and reporting on the personal experiences of healthcare workers in Sierra Leone and the cases they have seen. Following her initial interviews, she has begun to plan for second research trip to Sierra Leone to talk with people in the community in order to better understand the issues with social stigma and seeking care for mental health, as well as the problems with access and availability of care.



The YMCA of Sierra Leone

The Rotary Club of Urbana

Enactus at UIUC

The YMCA continues to look for ways to expand our partnerships and develop lasting programs and initiatives through our work with the Sierra Leone YMCA. If you or your organization is interested in the work we are doing please contact us at 217-337-1500.