Meet The Founder, Ray Barnett

Our Founder, Ray Barnett

Thirty-six 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. 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.” 

Ray Barnett – Founder and CEO

Ray intuitively knew that people get uncomfortable and tired of seeing depressing images. He knew that the way to really get inspired was to see the beauty and potential that exists in that darkness and despair. 

Ray decided to be innovative in his approach. He knew the key to engaging people was to have them meet the children face to face and hear their voices; hear their message of hope. 

In 1984, he founded the African Children’s Choir, and served as the director and visionary for Music for Life, the non-profit organisation working to develop the Choir program while raising funds to help thousands of destitute children receive an education and hope through other relief and development programs. 

Under his leadership, the Choir has gained international recognition and has raised the funds and sponsorship needed to educate over 53,000 children in 36 years. 

Ray who resides in White Rock, British Columbia, has been the subject of two television documentaries and has received numerous awards and honours for his work. These include the prestigious Cross of Nails, awarded by the Coventry Cathedral in England to recognise his widespread efforts to promote peace throughout the world, and the Heart of Gold Award bestowed by Esther Ranson at the BBC. 

Founding Member Suzanne Nelson

Suzanne was part of pioneering a church in Seattle in the early 1970’s where she heard Ray Barnett speak about the persecuted church around the world. By the late ’70’s Suzanne was working full time for Ray and his efforts to help the persecuted church in Eastern Europe and Uganda. 

Suzanne and another volunteer, Rod Forrest were with Ray after he had returned from one of his trips to Uganda. But this time Ray was challenged to do more to help the 100,000+ orphans in the Luwero Triangle, many of them the children of Christian martyrs as a result of the prolonged civil war.  It was then Ray shared his vision of the African Children’s Choir – a truly impossible dream!


“My greatest joy has been to see our mission fulfilled in the lives of the choir graduates. We are so proud of them.” 

Suzanne Nelson – Board of Directors

From the Choir’s inception in 1984 Suzanne continued to support Ray’s vision in a variety of roles.  Most prominently as the International Director helping with administration, booking, tour leading, Choir directing, Choir team support, and coordinating with our African staff. Suzanne travelled to Africa and spent a lot of time on the road with the Choir and troubleshooting where needed. Additionally, she helped develop base locations in Arlington, WA, London, Northern Ireland, and San Diego. Suzanne also developed our Int’l Executive Team. She wore many “hats” and carried out duties for every possible role except driving the bus!

Very recently Suzanne moved from Bellingham, Washington to Manchester, Vermont where she can be closer to her family.  She loves to read, take walks, interior decorate and spend time with her many nieces and nephews in the US and Africa.