Music breathes life into those once lost

Ordinarily, the thought of corralling 13 children, ages eight to 11, might make most of us run in the opposite direction. But not this group.

Behold the African Children's Choir, representing a population of millions of the most vulnerable. They are bright, articulate, well-mannered, grateful for the least bit of kindness and full of promise.

The majority were born in Kampala, Uganda's capital city, others in Ghana. If you ask about their parents, more than half will say that one or both have died from disease or starvation.

Once lost and abandoned to slums, garbage heaps or the streets, these children are now found. Their chilling back-stories tell of having nothing.

While toddlers, barely surviving, they were rescued by humanitarian Ray Barnett, who founded Music for Life. This start-up non-profit set out 26 years ago to keep Africa's forgotten children from dying at such a rapid rate.

Today, Music for Life cares for some 8,000 children by housing, feeding, clothing, educating, guiding and nurturing them.

The choir's conductor and tour guide are graduates of the program and say Music for Life saved them.

Everything in Uganda is celebrated by dance and the culture communicates with drums, so the choir sings and dances to the pulsating beat of three Ngoma drums, and can those kids play!

Their traditional costumes of bright lime green linen smocks drape over harvest orange goucho pants, sport beads, bangles, bells and even bird feathers.

These survivors with eyes sparkling, faces grinning, arms waving, sway about the stage in perfect patterns of radiating joy.

Feet first, stepping sprightly — heel, toe, heel, toe — and then in a great crescendo they stomp, while shoulders slink low, rise up and then exude a synchronized flow of gladness.

During one of several program segments, the chorus members share personal stories, introduce themselves and tell what they want to be.

Speaking in English, the official language of Ghana, with thick Ghanese accents, some say….

"Hello, my name is Debra, I want to be a lawyer."

"Hello, my name is Jordan, I want to be a pilot."

"Hello, my name is Stella, I want to be a writer."

Further down the recited string of aspirations are dreams of some day becoming a doctor, a nurse, high school teacher, engineer, musician and so on.

The rest of their stories spill out without uttering a word or singing a note. Their measured movements, their twinkling glances, their fixated focus on the conductor tell plenty about the new life they live.

You can't watch the African Children's Choir without desiring to adopt one or more. However, they resist such an inclination because they want to go home, as they say, "to make it better there."

An hour and a half of praise and thanksgiving music, this Gospel choir symbolizes the hope, spirit and might of a continent seeking rebirth out of a mire of poverty and war.

Nominated for a Grammy in 1993, this chorus radiates sweetly choreographed numbers, transforming audiences, who they themselves are reborn.

When you first set eyes on such innocence and vulnerability and hear those heartbreaking voices ring out at the top of their lungs "This Little Light of Mine" and "You Are the Shepherd," you, too, will experience a rebirth of sorts.

If the African Children's Choir appears in a venue near you, don't pass it up. It's a performance you have to see.

For more information, visit africanchildrenschoir.com.

2010 © Copyright Paula Damon. A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Damon is a national and state award-winning columnist. Her columns have won first-place in National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women Communications Contests. In the 2009 and 2010 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contest, Paula's columns took first-place awards statewide. To contact Paula, email pauladamon@iw.net, follow her blog at www.my-story-your-story.blogspot.com and find her on Facebook.

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