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African children sing for freedom
Their charming smiles, talented voices, and bright eyes show only one piece of their story.
Next month, a group of African children will be performing at Chilliwack Alliance Church as part of the African Children's Choir.
The colourful concert promises to boast a range of children's songs, as well as traditional, spiritual and contemporary African music, an assortment of ethnic instrumentation, cultural dancing, hand clapping, and more.
Their spirit is no doubt astonishing.
"When you see these children perform, when you see their smiles, their energy, their enthusiasm and their thirst for life, you're kind of amazed at just how much hope they have," said tour leader Nate Longstaff.
All from war-torn Uganda, these children, ranging in age from nine to 11 years old, have experienced more devastation in their young lives than most in the Western World could fathom. They've lost parents, had to leave their homes, have lived in squalor and fear, have been denied education.
"The background of where they come from is very, very difficult," said Longstaff. And yet, "they are beacons of hope."
The African Children's Choir was established in 1984, when humanitarian Ray Barnett, of White Rock, saw first hand the devastation and sorrows of Africa on a missions trip. He also witnessed the beauty and hope sung from the mouths of the native children.
It was those voices that pushed him towards making a change.
Barnett could have developed a program, like many others, that showed the poverty, starvation, injustice, disease and violence displayed every day in African countries, but he felt the world was becoming fatigued by the depressing images.
Instead, Barnett created the Children's Choir with the purpose of making a meaningful difference one child at a time.
Working with parent organization, Music for Life, the African Children's Choir raises funds for schools and universities. It provides free education for every child in the choir, as well as others savaged by war and poverty. It also takes literacy and music education programs to villages where there aren't any schools, and provides HIV/Aids education as well.
Operating now for 30 years, it works in seven African countries and has helped over 200,000 people. Several of the choir children over the years, who started in the slums, have become pillars in their communities – doctors, lawyers, journalists, teachers, engineers – all because of the African Children's Choir.
The choirs have performed before presidents, heads of state, and most recently the Queen of England. They've also sung alongside Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Keith Urban, and Mariah Carey.
This tour is the 41st choir.
"These children are ambassadors for their brothers and sisters," said Longstaff.
"It is tremendous to be able to be a part of the growth of these children. When they first came on tour, they were very shy, very tentative, unsure of the experiences, wary of adults because of the treatments they've had."
And now, "They are growing physically, spiritually, they're developing their characters and are really coming out of their shell. They're flourishing.
"It's incredible, it really is."
And their performances, Longstaff said, will capture even the toughest of hearts.
"I have seen every shape, size, colour, loud, quiet, I have met them all while on tour, and everyone comes away with a very similar response," said Longstaff. "It inspires hope. You come away from a performance like this with a different perspective on life – that is one of the tremendous things about the touring choir."
The African Children's Choir is performing at Chilliwack Alliance Church on Sunday, July 13 at 6:30 p.m. The concert is free admission.
A free-will offering will be taken at the performance to support African Children's Choir programs, such as education, care, relief and development programs.