Empower International Academy

Our prayers have been answered and our dreams are becoming a reality. The Empower International Academy is a secondary level boarding school that was conceived to bring a Christ-centered international standard education to Uganda for members of the African Children’s Choir and beyond. We are very excited to have completed the construction of phase I and announce the opening of the school in February, 2020. We are also extremely excited to introduce our school principal, Benjamin Opondo. Benjamin, a Kenyan native, has just relocated to Uganda from Birundi where served as the principal of Gitega International Academy.

During his time at Gitega, Benjamin led the academy to full international accreditation to become one of Birundi’s most trusted schools. Benjamin implemented policies and procedures to manage everything from procurement processes to curriculum scope and significantly boosted student enrollment. Benjamin is a solid academic leader with a pastor’s heart and we believe he will lead Empower International Academy to become one of Uganda’s top secondary schools. Please join us in welcoming Benjamin to the Music for Life family.

Here is a bird’s eye tour of our new campus:

We thank God that He has brought us this far. We’ve been working with amazing partners like Empower African Children, USAID/ASHA, Ecclesia Houston, Living Water International, Engineering Ministries International (EMI) KWaYa, and many friends with generous hearts to get to this point.

It’s Cool In The Fire

All of us face trials and difficulties in our lives. When we face them knowing our God is with us, we emerge stronger in faith and courage. When we face them with our brothers and sisters, we emerge refined and unified. We build community and then others look in wonder.

During each term break we have the opportunity to bring groups of our secondary students together for camp. Camp reminds our students that they are loved, and cared for and that Music for Life is here to help them realize their dreams. In May, we gathered forty-nine of our senior two and senior three members at our new Empower International Academy campus in Uganda. The four day camp focused on the theme “It’s Cool in the Fire,” drawn from Daniel 3:16-28. Through this theme students were encouraged to stay calm amidst life’s difficult trials.

It’s an important theme and lesson, especially for teens as they face many of the temptations around them and begin to formulate the identities they’ll carry into adulthood. Camp allows our students to reunite with tour mates and seek counsel from their aunties and uncles who have emerge from their own trials and difficulties with much wisdom and experience to share. It is an encouraging time in a safe and loving environment. Camp is also a lot of fun!

All of the students and our entire organization are grateful to the sponsors who have partnered with Music for Life to make these important camps a reality and please join us in prayer for secondary students as the return to school. Enjoy this short video from Patricia from Choir 39 and the many fun photos from camp.

Making a Difference

IMG_6407

Greeted with smiling faces and warm hugs, we instantly felt the warmth and care of Uganda. We were welcomed by a group of young adults who once toured with the African Children’s Choir. As we drove in, the sign caught my eye; below the familiar logo was the statement: Making a Difference. Within a matter of minutes, we were witnessing that difference first-hand.

This was the first time our Donor Services Team had been to Africa. Like many of you, those of us who work for Music for Life love to see the Choir when they come through town. But for most of us, some that have worked with the organization for over a decade, we had never been to Africa; we hadn’t seen the real-life, on-the-ground results of our work. Leadership at Music for Life decided that this was the year to change that.

After many hours of airports and flights, we landed at Entebbe International Airport on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda. In our first few days there, we met many of our long-distance co-workers for the very first time. So many faces and places that we had only seen in pictures were coming to life for us. The work that we do became tangible.

IMG_6879

During our time in Uganda, the children selected for the 46th Choir began training for their tour. It was a privilege for us to spend time with them. We even had the honour of visiting some of their homes and meeting their families.

Despite having the knowledge that the Choir children came from impoverished areas, when we saw it for ourselves, our team was overcome by how truly desperate the circumstances of their families were.

IMG_7827

To reach each home, we had to weave through a maze of dilapidated dwellings, washed out pathways, and ditches full of stagnant water and trash. Most of the homes are small, makeshift structures with only one or two rooms to house an entire family, often including relatives as well.

Many roofs leak when it rains; some homes can even flood at times. Those who live outside the city have to walk long distances to get water each day, and in certain seasons, their water source is not clean or safe to drink.

The conditions are unfathomable. It’s hard to understand how one can remain hopeful in the midst of the living conditions they face each day.

Our limited experiences of these daily realities highlighted the immense challenges faced by children in Uganda. Many of these challenges are ones that we’ve all seen and heard before, stories and circumstances that we can easily become apathetic toward from the opposite side of the world. But after meeting face to face with these vulnerable children in their own context, we began to get a more vivid sense of what they are up against.

Born into desperate poverty, they struggle through one day at a time, hoping and dreaming of a brighter future. The lives of many of these children are changed by attending Music for Life Centres or by receiving education and care through our sponsorship program.

IMG_7926

IMG_7832

IMG_7860

At the end of our first week there, we visited the African Children’s Choir Primary School. It was an exciting opportunity for us to meet children from recent choirs and to reunite with some who we had met in North America in months and years past.

But beyond the excitement, it was incredible to experience the environment in which these kids live, learn, and grow. ACCPS provides a quality, well-rounded education, not only maintaining a high standard academically, but also creating the space for every child to grow socially, spiritually, and emotionally.

In a nation where each day is an obstacle, our primary school removes some of life’s daily challenges and worries, opening kids up to a new kind of freedom. With the assurance that they will be provided with things as essential as food and shelter today, and again tomorrow, the children are able to spend their time learning and growing like every child deserves to do. They are able to be kids again.

_N6A6454

IMG_7199

IMG_7418

IMG_8596

Throughout the trip, we spent many hours with University students, recent graduates, MFL staff and others who all toured with the African Children’s Choir when they were younger. It was incredibly encouraging to meet each of them and hear their stories, especially with our newly gained perspective of the circumstances that these very people were born into.

We were able to see the bigger picture—the long-term results of the Choir program. 10, 20 and 30 years after touring with the Choir as children, they have become confident, successful people, and are making extraordinary contributions to their communities. They have transcended the cycle of poverty that they were born into.

You may recognize the stories of some of these ChangeMakers [David, Nancy, Catherine], but for each one that we’ve introduced you to, there are numerous other intelligent, compassionate individuals giving back and serving those in need. These are the ones fulfilling the mission of Music for Life, changing the landscape of Africa and making a lasting difference in their nations.

_N6A5675

IMG_7710

A big part of our team’s role at Music for Life is to communicate the necessity of what we do, as well as the results; the opportunity to go to Africa provided us with a better understanding of both. We were able to witness and comprehend in a deeper way the impact Music for Life has on the life of each child we serve. We were able to see each step of the journey out of poverty, from the difficult circumstances we saw as we visited several homes, to the success and hope embodied by those who were once in the Choir and are now giving back.

Our work is made exceptionally more meaningful by experiencing the context in which it takes place. Our passion for what we do is multiplied when we can reflect on our own personal encounters with the children we serve, and we are inspired to share that with our faithful donors.

Reflecting on our time in Africa, I keep coming back to the words I read as we arrived. Making a Difference. Three simple words to encapsulate the stories of thousands.

For me personally, this has been validated. Our programs really are working. As we serve and empower the children of Africa, real lives are transformed and real people are impacted. The work of Music for Life truly is making a difference.

IMG_7635

 

Between Friends Spring 2014 Edition

Welcome to the Spring Edition of Between Friends. This quarterly newsletter includes updates about the Choir and features stories about our field programs in Africa. Please provide your email address below if you would like to be notified when new editions are published. Enjoy!

We respect your privacy, and we will not fill your email box with spam, and we never share any of our supporter’s and friend’s email addresses with anyone else.

When love found Kivulu

Report from Sharifa, our Music for Life Team Leader in Kivulu, Uganda:

Our Music for Life Center team, comprising of five dedicated former African Children's Choir members, conducts a center at Grace Fellowship Primary School every Friday from midday to 2:00pm. The school is located in one of the worst slums in Uganda known as Kivulu.

Children fetching water in Kivulu slum

Children fetching water in Kivulu slum

Kivulu slum in Uganda

Kivulu slum in Uganda

The primary two kids, who have shattered pasts, have devotions together and share Bible stories. They are taught music, dance and life skills. The Word and love offered brings them healing and hope and a better outlook on life as a whole. They also get a chance to play games which lightens the mood and brings smiles to their pretty faces. At the end of the day they are provided with lunch, and to them it's the best part of the day, since some of them can go days without a meal given the high rates of poverty in the country.

Children attending the Music for Life Center in Kivulu

Children attending the Music for Life Center in Kivulu

Kivulu Music for Life Center

The joy of song during a session at the Music for Life Center

When talking about the Music for Life Center, Miriam, a teacher at Grace Fellowship Primary School says “Thank you for giving hope to these children, most of them only know life on the streets and that's what they have embraced, but the love you show them has made a difference.”

It is with your love and support that we are able to fund projects like the Music for Life Center in Kivulu. The African Children's Choir continue to be the ambassadors for children back home in Africa, from destitute areas such as Kivulu. The Choir raise funds and awareness so Music for Life can continue to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable children in Africa.

Find out more about where Music for Life works and how you can support us today.

Kivulu Music for Life Center

Turning sorrow into smiles in Kivulu

 

 

 

 

The boy that inspired it all

After Idi Amin was driven out of Uganda, British journalist Dan Wooding and humanitarian Ray Barnett travelled to the broken country to research a book, which they later published, called The Ugandan Holocaust.

Whilst preparing to leave the home village of the late Archbishop Janani Luwum, a place called Mucwini, a local woman ran over to the pair with her young child in tow.

The mother asked the duo if they would take her son to her sister’s house, where he was to stay for the holidays. Accepting her request Ray and Dan showed the boy into their white transit van.

The young boy bounced into the vehicle with excitement, waved his mother goodbye, and sat back into his seat as the group set off on their journey north. He was around nine years old, and dressed in a typical Ugandan school uniform.

The young boy watched outside the window as the brick red dust danced into the air with every thud of the heavy tyres against the uneven terrain.  The sun beat down on the green of the bushland that bordered the track they were travelling.

“So, what grade are you in?” Dan asked their new companion, breaking the child’s stare. The schoolboy turned, answered, then proceeded to tell Ray and Dan all about his enjoyment of school, and how he was looking forward to spending his holiday with his cousins.

The boy continued with his animated chatter, excitement for his holiday evident. He recalled all the adventures he had last experienced at his aunt’s house, and told of how much he was looking forward to swimming in a nearby lake. He described how the children would make toys to entertain themselves, as they had no money to buy their own – taking tyres off bicycle wheels, using the remaining metal hoops to push with sticks, his eyes sparkled with delight as he recollected the fond memories.

He was a warm, courteous child, but it was evident he was from a struggling environment, typical of any Ugandan family living in those hard and hostile times.

“Can you sing?” Ray asked the boy.

He smiled, shut his eyes and started to sing – performing for his new friends.

A beautiful, pure voice floated through the air.

The song he sang was about heaven, although the boy innocently pronounced it ‘haven’ – which made the performance all the more endearing and gave Ray goose bumps, such beautiful talent hidden in such a remote part of the world.

As the angelic notes hit the air, Dan reached towards his bag, dug around, and pulled out the recorder he had been using to tape interviews for the book. Tape already inserted, he hit the red button.

Curiosity struck the boy’s face as he continued singing, after a while he stopped, interest prevailed.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Dan explained that he was recording his voice, and played the sounds back to the inquisitive child.

The boy was thrilled; it was really his own voice coming out of that machine – and what a voice it was!

Ray and Dan shared an amused smile at one another, as song broke once more – and continued until they reached their destination.

“Thanks for the ride” the young boy yelled as he skipped towards his aunt’s house, seeming very proud of how his voice had entertained so greatly.

Ray and Dan continued their journey, and for weeks the soulful sounds of the young Ugandan’s voice kept them company as they travelled, playing proudly from the dented old tape recorder.

The joyful audio was a welcomed contrast to the aftermath of death and destruction at the hands of Idi Amin that the pair were witnessing daily on their trip. The same horrific and negative images that the rest of the world were associating with the challenged country too – if only they could see the dignity and beauty of the talented children, like their young companion, to witness the positives, hope and potential the country held.

It would be this memory of a talent so pure and unassuming that flashed into Ray’s mind in later years when he returned to Uganda. This was the inspiration he called upon to help the vulnerable children of this country more than anyone could ever had imagined.

 

For updates on Ray’s Voice please ‘like’ the blog’s Facebook page or follow Ray on Twitter.