2018 began with the first North Carolina snowfall of the year. For a group of children from Uganda who woke up in Raleigh this weekend, it was the first snow of their lives.
“They had gone down for a nap before the show, and when they woke up there was snow on the ground,” says Tina Sipp, tour manager for the African Children’s Choir, which is crossing North Carolina for a series of shows during its nine-month U.S. tour.
“They were just enamored. They couldn’t wait to get the concert done so they could go outside. We had a massive snow fight,” Sipp says.
The tour – which stops Wednesday night at Concord’s New Life Baptist Church, with another performance at Blair Road United Methodist Church in Mint Hill Friday – is part of the Music For Life organization’s educational and developmental outreach in African countries like Rwanda and Uganda. The choir is made up of children ages 7 to 10 who serve as ambassadors for the program, sharing song and dance with audiences.
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Although the children on the current tour don’t come from war-torn areas, they have their share of hurdles to overcome.
“Disease is rampant. There isn’t adequate medical care. There are lots of single moms who don’t have the means to get the children what they most desire. Fathers often aren’t able to provide for their families,” Sipp says. “We don’t really audition for talent. We are trying to find families who we can make the most impact with, families that would significantly benefit.”
While the children tour and are educated elsewhere, Sipp says: “This isn’t just the Western world swooping in and saying, ‘Let’s give these children an education.’ ”
“It flips a direction from unending poverty to self-sustaining,” she says. “We don’t remove children from their communities. That’s the very place we want them to effect change. They will be away at boarding school, but on term breaks they go back to their communities.”
Staying with host families is an unusual experience for them. “Life is quite different here, but they get to go home to a good school and their tuition will be paid for university,” says Sipp, who has worked with the choir for 12 years. “Education isn’t accessible like it is to everyone here. Tens of thousands of children are out of the realm of receiving an education, and you never know what’s residing in those little children.”
Sipp changed the course of her career after catching the choir in the early 2000s. Some of the students she toured with in 2003 are now graduating from universities.
“I’ve been able to track them and see them through primary, secondary and now university,” she says. Two chaperones accompanying the children on tour this time were in the choir when Sipp first saw them perform.
“Singing, dancing, drumming. It’s inherent in their culture. It’s not very difficult for the children to learn the program we have. It’s just in them,” she says. “It’s part of the fabric of their life. They just come alive. It would be harder to have them not dance and sing.”
“You’re captured by the spirit of the children. That’s why I’m still involved. Few things you get to do are profound, and I think this is profound. I get to play a part in that transformation of that child who will become a future change-maker.”
African Children’s Choir
When/where: 7 p.m. Wednesday at New Life Baptist Church, 1281 Biscayne Drive, Concord; 7 p.m. Friday at Blair Road United Methodist Church, 9135 Blair Road, Mint Hill.
Tickets: Free (donations accepted).