The choir began over 25 years ago, when a Canadian aid worker named Ray Barnett was on a humanitarian trip to war-torn Uganda. He gave a small boy a ride from his decimated home to the safety of another village. The boy sang the whole way, and his song of hope became the catalyst for a program that has changed the lives of thousands of children.
“When I went back to Canada and people were not very interested in Uganda, I remembered this small boy,” Ray said. “I knew that if only a group of these beautiful children could go to the West, people would be deeply moved and would certainly want to help.” From there the African Children’s Choir was born.
Rallying support from the West, Ray coordinated the first tour of the Choir, bringing 31 children of war-torn Africa to the West. The Choir inspired audiences with their stories and raised enough funds to open the first Children’s Home at Makerere, Uganda. The success and instant popularity of the first tour encouraged Ray to continue; and a second Choir was selected from the Children’s Home, and the African Children’s Choir began another tour. The Choir visiting Rhode Island is the 40th African Children’s Choir.
The Choir’s success meant that it was able to provide for many children beyond those in the Choir. Over the next few years, six more children’s homes were established to care for vulnerable children, many of whom had been orphaned during the war. Additionally, the African Children’s Choir established a number of special Literacy Schools in Uganda where hundreds of children learned to read and write and gained confidence and skills that ensured a brighter future.
As the children got older, the program developed a sponsorship arm where all of the educational needs of these children could continue through secondary school, and in most cases, the children went on to higher education.
“Before I joined the African Children’s Choir I was actually out of school. I didn’t have food to eat and I didn’t even have clothes to wear,” said Dr. Robert Kalyesubula, a member of Choir 2. “I didn’t know where to sleep because we were 10 children sharing one house. When I joined the ACC, everything changed.”
After his exposure to the world while on tour with Choir 2, Kalyesubula went back to Uganda where ACC paid his and his brothers’ tuition. He went on to medical school. One of his brothers also became a doctor and the other brother became a civil engineer. Today, Dr. Kalyesubula works in the village where he was born, giving back to the community in ways that were unimaginable without the support of the African Children’s Choir.
According to chaperone Catherine Wake, who received her teaching degree from a Canadian university in 2012, Kalyesubula’s experience is typical. “The initiative helps the whole community, family, siblings, everyone. These kids grow up and become doctors, teachers and engineers, and bring their skill back home with them.”
Music for Life (The parent organization for The African Children’s
Choir) works in seven African countries: Uganda, Kenya,
Rwanda, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. MFL has educated over
52,000 children and impacted the lives of countless others.
“They look so tiny now,” Wake says of her charges, who range in age from eight to ten. “But they are participating in something that will give them a hand up for the rest of their lives. They are being given hope and joy.”
Concerts are free and open to all. A free-will offering is taken at the performance. Shows are 10 a.m.; Sunday, Feb. 2, at the Haven United Methodist Church, 200 Taunton Ave., East Providence; 401/438-4911; and 7 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 7, at the Zion Gospel Temple, 90 Leonard Ave, East Providence; 401/435-6900.