There was a pin-drop silence as the African Children’s Choir sang Amazing Grace in a high-energy singing and dancing concert by children who dream of an education.
“The choir inspires them to dream,” said Marsha Gusti, the Founding President of Kwaya Australia, the choir’s Gold Coast based partner charity.
The concert MC told the audience “the more you applaud and support them, the more energy they will give.” The choir didn’t disappoint and their joy for music and rhythm was contagious.
The non-denominational Ugandan choir of 18 children is selected from thousands of applicants. They train for six months, then tour for 10 months to the USA and Australia supported by a qualified teacher and a team of volunteers. This includes eight chaperones, two who were once members of the choir. The Sydney performance was at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Primary School Caringbah, the only Catholic school to host the choir on their third tour of Australia.
The African Children’s Choir (ACC) “Under One Sky” tour covered Australia’s East Coast from April to June 2015. Aged between 7 and 11 years, new recruits from remote villages and the slums of Uganda attend the Music For Life’s Choir Training Academy in Uganda before touring. When they return then take up their education and a new choir is selected.
The proceeds of performances pay for the children’s education in Uganda, a country where half the population is under 14 years and only two in 100 children will finish university.
In addition, the “Kwaya” program offers two week volunteering opportunities for Australians to travel to Uganda, a country with immense poverty, to “make a difference”.
Volunteers assist in construction, crop or garden planting and medical checks for The African Children’s Choir Primary School and the African Children’s Choir Training Academy.
They also visit and work in slums and remote villages and take part in singing and dance routines with the choir.
Ms Gusti said the children’s music opens hearts and minds. “Extraordinary lifelong connections are forged and shaped through a common love of music and humanity,” she said.
Parent at Our Lady of Fatima, Andrew Lehane, volunteered in April last year to complete a building project in Uganda’s capital, Kampala with Kwaya Australia.
“We went to the slums and put up a kids jungle gym and play area. It was definitely the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever built. The kids loved it,” he said.
Mr Lehane helped bring the choir to Australia and his family was one of the eight host families billeting the choir and volunteers for the Caringbah concert.
His son Daniel, in Year 3, said it was really good that the choir came to the school.
“We’ve got three days with them. I’m in the school band but I’ll be singing in Wollongong next weekend with them. I’m very excited,” he said.
Human rights activist, Ray Barnett, founded the choir in 1984 during the bloody civil war in Uganda where thousands of children were orphaned or abandoned.
Director of Development for the choir, Scott Lambie, said for 30 years, the choir has helped more than 52,000 children receive an education. Mr Lambie, who gave up a lucrative career in Canada and moved with his wife and children to take up the leadership role in Uganda, said money raised from concerts and workshops also directly supported the communities where choir members have been selected.
The aims of the tours are to offer a unique cultural exchange with local communities and schools and to raise money and awareness for the ACC’s work in Africa.
Upon their return to Uganda, maintaining a strong connection to their families and communities, choir members are educated at Music For Life schools and funded in universities in Kampala where they gain the knowledge and skills that support their career ambitions.
Half-way through its Caringbah performance the choir interrupted its singing so that each choir member could introduce himself or herself and they told the audience, very confidently, what they want to be “when they grow up”.
The list of careers the children aspire to was vast: nurse, judge, teacher, airline pilot, business manager, pastor, accountant…
The ACC’s performance included a song with the Our Lady of Fatima Choir.
“It’s really good how they get to sing and express their feelings. Also they get to travel around the world. They sounded amazing,” said Year 4 student Leticia Velez.
The choir’s Australian tour began in Queenscliff Victoria, then went to Melbourne, Albury, Canberra, Nowra, Sydney, Wollongong, The Blue Mountains, the NSW North Coast, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts and ended in Brisbane.