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.