Thirty years ago, Ray Barnett was on a humanitarian trip to war-torn Uganda when he gave a small boy a ride from his decimated home to the safety of another village. During the journey, the child did what he knew how to do best – he sang. That simple song of dignity and hope became the catalyst for a program that has changed the lives of thousands of children and reshaped the future of the African continent.
“When I went back to Canada and people were not very interested in Uganda, I remembered this small boy,” Ray explained. “I knew that if only a group of these beautiful children could go to the West, people would be deeply moved and would certainly want to help.” From there the African Children’s Choir was born.
Rallying support from the West, Ray co-ordinated the first tour of the Choir, which successfully brought the voices of 31 children of war-torn Africa to the West. The Choir inspired audiences with their stories and raised enough funds to open the first Children’s Home at Makerere. The Home provided a stable environment and a quality education for the Choir children and additional children who needed care. The success and instant popularity of the first tour encouraged Ray to continue; and a second Choir was selected from the Children’s Home, and the African Children’s Choir began another tour.
The Choir’s success meant that it was able to provide for many children beyond those in the Choir. Over the next few years, six more children’s homes were established to care for vulnerable children, many of whom had been orphaned during the war. Additionally, the African Children’s Choir established a number of special Literacy Schools in Uganda where hundreds of children learned to read and write and gained confidence and skills that ensured a brighter future.
As the children got older, the program developed a sponsorship arm where all of the educational needs of these children could continue through secondary school, and in most cases, the children went on to higher education.
Dr. Robert Kalyesubula Member of Choir 2
Before I joined the African Children’s Choir I was actually out of school. I didn’t have food to eat and I didn’t even have clothes to wear. I didn’t know where to sleep because we were 10 children sharing one house. When I joined the ACC, everything changed. They provided for me food, they provided for me shelter, and I was able to play with the others without fearing and wondering what I was going to eat the next day.
After his exposure to the world while on tour with Choir 2, Robert went back to Uganda where ACC paid his and his brothers’ tuition. He went on to med school in Kampala for his first degree, and then earned a Master’s Degree in Internal Medicine – this in a country where there are only three nephrologists for a population of 30 million people. One of Robert’s brothers also became a doctor and the other brother became a civil engineer. Today, Dr. Robert works in the village where he was born, giving back to the community in ways that were unimaginable without the support of the African Children’s Choir.
Music for Life now operates in seven countries in Africa. The African Children’s Choir continues to tour every year, raising funds to support Music for Life as it faces the challenges that the continent brings, including the devastation wrought by the AIDS pandemic and the suffering of the 12 million orphans.