The Hippo


Jul 23, 2019








The African Children’s Choir. Lynne Dobson photo.

See the African Children’s Choir

In Manchester: First Congregational Church, 508 Union St., Manchester, 625-5093, Friday, May 15, at 7 p.m.
In West Lebanon: Wellspring Worship Center, 407 N. Main St., Lebanon, 643-2700, Saturday, May 16, at 6 p.m.
Admission: Free, but donations will go to the African Children’s Choir

Joyful performances
African Children’s Choir visits Manchester May 15

By Kelly Sennott

When the African Children’s Choir visited the First Congregational Church in 2007 and 2009, church members were struck by the emphatic joy with which they sang, danced and lived their lives.

“You can really feel the joy they have for singing,” said Michelle Harrington, who attended the choir’s last church concert, so crowded she and her daughter had to sit in the balcony. “It was such an uplifting experience. … They’re spreading messages of love and friendship. When you leave, you feel very positive and happy.”
The kids left an impression outside the church as well. When host “auntie” Erika Connors and her family opened their home to three boys in 2009, the children very happily played soccer and basketball and went swimming and kayaking in the water near the family’s home, despite the cold weather. 
Host parents said the kids were incredibly grateful for their food and housing, and also very upbeat, which is pretty remarkable when you look at some of their situations. In Uganda, for instance, about half the population is younger than 14, and only two of 100 children make it to university. Many have lost one or both parents to war, famine or disease.
“They’re such resilient people. They really know how to live a day. They’re more [cognizant] that tomorrow is not a guarantee; in our Western minds, we have five-, 10-year plans. We assume tomorrow’s coming,” said Tina Sipp, African Children’s Choir event coordinator via phone. “They’ve seen too much depth of tragedy. … I really think the joy comes from that resilience.”
Choir 43 performs at the First Congregational Church again this Friday, May 15, at 7 p.m. The show comprises traditional African song and dance performed by 18 Ugandan youth, ages 7 to 11, who have been touring North America since March. After their Manchester visit, they travel to Lebanon, then to Maine, and then from Canada’s east to west coast. Most stops are at churches because members happily feed and house the singers.
The organization celebrates its 30th birthday this year. It was founded by Ray Barnett, who was inspired by the song and spirit of the youth he met on a humanitarian trip. He coordinated the first choir tour shortly after.
At any given time, there are at least two tours of kids — from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa — traveling and singing around the world. They’re chosen by parent organization Music for Life, based on financial need, intelligence and talent, and the money they raise fuels their education. When the kids return home, they’ll begin preparing for their seventh-grade exam, which will determine the type of secondary education they’ll receive. Whatever doesn’t go directly to their education will go toward relief and development work.
For the children’s families, Sipp said, getting a spot in the choir is like winning the lottery.
“In the public schools, you have to have money for uniforms, books, pencils, paper, and the situations these kids are coming out of — their families simply cannot afford any of that,” Sipp said. “They would never have the opportunity to become self-sufficient, self-sustaining. … It dramatically changes the course of their lives. … And the churches that give to us at these events, they make a tremendous impact.”
The kids have performed on American Idol and Ellen and for Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee. They’ve sung alongside artists like Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Keith Urban and Mariah Carey. Their film credits include Blood Diamond and, most recently, Pan, which stars Hugh Jackman and comes out later this year. Many alumni have moved on to become nurses, doctors and lawyers.
“It’s very refreshing to be around them. They’re very funny, very clever children,” Sipp said. 
As seen in the May 7, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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