2018-03-08 / News

Church to host African Children’s Choir

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Members of the African Children’s Choir, seen in this publicity shot taken in their homeland, will perform at the Messiah Christian Church, located at 2700 Post Road in Wells, in a special performance at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 11. Although the show is free, donations to the choir and its nationwide tour, undertaken in support of its education, care and relief and development program, will be accepted. (Courtesy photo) Members of the African Children’s Choir, seen in this publicity shot taken in their homeland, will perform at the Messiah Christian Church, located at 2700 Post Road in Wells, in a special performance at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 11. Although the show is free, donations to the choir and its nationwide tour, undertaken in support of its education, care and relief and development program, will be accepted. (Courtesy photo) More than 30 years ago, Canadian Ray Barnett was on a humanitarian trip to war-torn Uganda when he gave a small boy a ride from his decimated home to the safety of another village. During the trip, the boy began to sing, a simple expression of dignity and hope in the face of unimaginable hardship that became the catalyst for a program that has changed the lives of thousands of children and reshaped the future of the African continent.

“When I went back to Canada and people were not very interested in Uganda, I remembered this small boy,” Barnett later explained. “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.”

With that concept, Barnett recruited 31 children for various war-torn countries of central Africa, including Somalia, Rwanda Nigeria, Ghana, and Sudan, founding the African Children’s Choir and taking them on a tour of western nations, raising awareness of the plight of Africa’s most vulnerable, but also showing the beauty, dignity and potential of each African child.

The African Children’s Choir will perform at Messiah Christian Church, located at 2700 Post Road in Wells, in a special performance at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 11.

The choir inspired audiences with their stories and from that first tour raised enough money to open a children’s home that provided a stable environment and a quality education for its members and others in need of basic care. Since then, the African Children’s Choir has performed thousands of community concerts around the world at such acclaimed venues as the United Nations, Royal Albert Hall, the White House, Carnegie Hall and the London Palladium. The choir has performed for U.S. presidents, the Queen of England and Nobel Prize laureate Nelson Mandela.

And the choir has continued its mission.

It quickly went on to establish six more children’s homes and, in Sudan alone, established 15 primary schools, a secondary school, a skills training center for practical skills such as carpentry and bricklaying, as well as one of the country’s few teacher training colleges, to help rebuild its local education system.

The choir also has worked in Rwanda with children suffering from post-traumatic stress from decades of civil war there. It also has helped in areas ravaged by the AIDS crisis that has decimated the continent, establishing centers to care for the many hundreds of children orphaned by the ongoing crisis.

Dr. Robert Kalyesubula is just one of the choir’s many success stories. Orphaned by the Ugandan Holocaust during the reign of Idi Amin, he and his three siblings spent nearly six months wanding the country looking for lost relatives, dodging soldiers and scavenging for food. Their sister did not survive the journey by the time the three boys found an aunt, they were extremely malnourished. Kalyesubula later left school at Grade 3 because his aunt could not afford the fees. Instead he kept occupied with odd jobs until given an opportunity to join the African Children’s Choir.

After his exposure to the world on the tour with choir, Kalyesubula went back to Uganda where the choir paid for his tuition, as well as that of his brothers. Kalyesubula went on to medical school, eventually earning a degree in internal medicine, becoming a nephrologists in a country where he and just two others in his field serve a population of 30 million people. Meanwhile, the education funded by the children’s choir helped one of his other brothers also became a doctor, while the other went on to become a civil engineer.

Another choir alum, Nancy Birungi, also of Uganda, parlayed her choir experience and later educational support into a law degree, becoming part of a group of Christian lawyers who give free legal advice to those who can’t afford it, like poor women and prison inmates.

“When I travelled with the choir I realized there were people who cared about me and my future,” she said. “More astonishingly, these people were complete strangers who believed we could have a better future. They changed my destiny.

To date, the African Children’s Choir, through its Music for Life program, has educated over 52,000 children in seven African countries. Today, more than 50 schools and educational programs serving 6,500 young Africans are supported by Music for Life and the choir, which currently has 36 young children on tour.

“With a focus on education as a means for change, the choir is currently caring for underprivileged and destitute children throughout Africa. These are children who could have lost all hope, but have overcome their circumstances and now are making a positive impact on society,” said the group’s’ publicity coordinator, Lydia Sherwood.. “The children melt the hearts of audiences with their charming smiles, beautiful voices and lively African songs and dances. The program features well-loved songs, gospel spirituals, and contemporary favorites. Nearly every performance is concluded with a thunderous standing ovation. In spite of the tragedy that has marred their young lives, the children are radiant with hope, musically gifted and wonderfully entertaining.”

“We’ve had them here for 20 years and they are truly inspirational every time, said Pastor Dan Moore, of the Messiah Christian Church in Wells. “I personally really appreciate this ministry and their reaching out to the kids, and they way they have helped the program and shown concern for their families. Having them back again is just our way of endorsing that minsitry and what they are trying to do to help all of those children in need.

“I think supporting the kids in this choir is probably the most important thing,” Moore said. “They come here from Africa and share the gift of music they have to give in a way that I believe truly extends the Kingdom of God. Despite their hardships, there is so much joy in these kids as they sing and speak about their experiences and I think that is really important to see and support.”

Although the show is free, donations to the choir and its nationwide tour, undertaken in support of its education, care and relief and development program, will be accepted.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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