Choir brings sounds of Africa here

It was a performance most of those crowded into the Bethel Baptist Church here Friday night won’t soon forget.
The African Children’s Choir performed for nearly two hours, but don’t let the name fool you: they are much more than a group of children who stand and sing.
This choir’s show included energetic dancing, gestures, and drumming, as well as colourful costumes.
“Everybody was saying how great it was,” Pastor Tony Geense after the performance. “The church hasn’t shook that much in a long time.”
Indeed, the children’s enthusiastic dancing caused the floor to shake and the pews to rock. Many on hand clapped or sang along to the songs while others danced in the aisles.
Pastor Geense estimated there were at least 250 people in attendance.
As people took their seats before the show, a video described the effects of AIDS, malaria, and other diseases in Africa. The heart-wrenching images reminded the viewers of where the children came from—and what the purpose of their tour is.
Pastor Geense introduced the choir when they were ready, noting it is made up of 24 children from Uganda (10 boys and 14 girls) aged eight-11.
“Most of these children have lost one or both parents to poverty or disease. All are victims of extreme poverty,” he said.
“You will not see evidence of that, however, as they are here to sing and dance for their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ,” Pastor Geense added.
“These children are not here representing themselves,” he stressed. “They are here to represent the thousands of desperate children back home in Africa who still need help.”
Then the children came out dressed in bright costumes of purple and gold. They sang a mixture of African songs and traditional Christian songs like “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
Halfway through the performance, the choir took a break and another video was played, which talked about the Nkomazi region of South Africa.
It is a region that’s been hit particularly hard by the AIDS epidemic. In Nkomazi, more than 2,700 children have lost one or both parents to the disease.
Some 210 families have no adult in the household, and older children who have watched their parents suffer and die then are forced to care for their younger siblings.
The African Children’s Choir raises funds for emergency relief in the region, as well as to establish an extended-family support network for child-led families.
Following the video, Abraham Kiyingi, a former performer from the third African Children’s Choir, spoke to the crowd about the goal of the choir and what it did for him.
Known as “Uncle Abraham” to the children, Kiyingi explained how he has a degree in computer software management now—thanks to the education that was provided to him through the choir.
The ACC holds auditions each year for a new choir while children from the previous year return to their homelands to attend schools sponsored by Music for Life, the non-profit organization behind the choir.
In fact, the children receive free education at Music for Life institutions right through primary and secondary school.
This year, Kiyingi decided to give back to the organization that gave him an education he would not have otherwise received by becoming a volunteer chaperone on the tour.
He is a living example of the choir’s mission statement: “Help Africa’s most vulnerable children today, so they can help Africa tomorrow.”
“The message of the African Children’s Choir is not one of tragedy, but of hope,” Kiyingi stressed. “Because there is hope for Africa, there is hope for these children, and there is hope for you.”
Baskets were passed around for people to make donations to the ACC and then the concert resumed, with the children coming out in grass skirts performing traditional African dances and drumming.
They wrapped up the show with “This Little Light of Mine,” and danced off stage to a standing ovation.
Following the show, the children were billeted out to about 10 local host families, with each household taking in two children and an adult volunteer who travels with the choir, known as “aunties” and “uncles.”
Pastor Geense said the children had arrived around 2:30 p.m. on Friday and promptly took a nap before having prayers and rehearsals.
“The kids are wonderful,” he remarked.
The African Children’s Choir had performed here in 2000, he recalled, with much the same response from the audience.
This time, Pastor Geense is hoping the church’s AWANA group can set up a fundraising initiative to support one of the children in the choir.
The children perform an average of four concerts a week, and receive schooling from the volunteer teachers who travel with the group. They will continue their tour through Ontario over the next 10 weeks.
Two other choirs tour in other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.
The group that performed here Friday night also has performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, with Wyclef Jean on The Late Late Show, and sang the title song to the movie “Hotel Rwanda.”
Another choir—made up entirely of children from the Nkomazi region—sang at the Live 8 concert in London, England last month.
The African Children’s Choir was established in 1984 by Ray Barnett, an Irish minister who resides in Canada.
Barnett already had a long history of doing relief work in developing countries when he formed the choir to raise awareness of the plight of orphans in Uganda.
His goal was also to show people a side of Africa that is not often shown on television: the singing and laughter of children.
Since its inception, the ACC has expanded to fund programs in countries like Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan, and Kenya.
Thousands of children living in poverty have received an education through the efforts of the ACC.