On a humanitarian trip to Uganda in 1984, during that country’s bloody civil war, human rights activist Ray Barnett helped some of the many thousands of orphaned and starving children who had been abandoned and were unable to feed themselves. Realizing that it was a daunting task, he and his team came up with a unique approach to make a meaningful difference: They would give these children something to sing about.
That something turned out to be the first African Children’s Choir, composed of kids selected from at-risk and orphaned children in the Kampala and Luwero areas of Uganda. The inspiration came when Barnett gave a small boy a ride from his decimated home to the safety of another village. During the journey, the child did what he knew how to do best — he sang. That simple song of dignity and hope 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 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. Inspired by the singing of this one small boy, we formed the first African Children’s Choir to show that Africa’s most vulnerable children have beauty, dignity and unlimited ability.”
Rallying support, Barnett coordinated the first tour of the choir, which successfully brought the voices of 31 children of war-torn Africa to the West for a tour among North American church communities. Inspiring audiences with songs and their stories, the choir raised enough funds to open the first Children’s Home at Makerere, which provided a stable environment and a quality education for the choir children and additional children who needed care. A second choir selected from that Children’s Home also went on tour.
The African Children’s Choir became the messenger for the plight of thousands of other vulnerable children in Uganda. A fundraising arm, Music for Life, was formed to improve the lives, education and future for thousands of children suffering in terrible conditions in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa. To date, more than 50,000 children have been educated and more than 100,000 children have been helped through the African Children’s Choir and Music for Life education and relief projects.
The African Children’s Choir is composed of African children, 7 to 10 years old, many of whom have lost one or both parents through the devastation of war, famine and disease. In concert, they perform delightful African tunes, accompanied by ethnic instrumentation. The program features well-loved children’s songs, handclapping, traditional spirituals and contemporary tunes. Over the past 20 years, the children have appeared in thousands of concerts around the world, including concerts at the Pentagon and the United Nations.
Where there’s music, there’s hope.
The African Children’s Choir performs tonight at 7pm, March 4, 2019 at the Las Vegas Junior Academy.