A little taste of Africa came to the city of Houston, Texas, recently in the form of 24 children singing and dancing together as part of the African Children's Choir, a non-profit group that helps young people orphaned by AIDS, war and poverty. All of the children on this tour are from Uganda, where the program began in 1984, but thousands of children from across Africa have participated and continue to benefit from the program. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Houston.
Nine-year-old Rita, one of 24 stars on stage, says when she grows up, she wants to be a pastor.
Backstage, she is too shy to answer many questions, but she will perform one of her favorite songs: “This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine,” she sings.
One of the adult supervisors on this current tour of the United States is Barnett Twesi Gomwe, who joined the choir when he was a child to escape a life of poverty.
"I ask myself what would I have been? Would my life have been different? Of course, it would have been very different," he says.
Barnett says there are many more children back in Africa being helped by the project that these two dozen performers represent.
"Not all of them can come this way,” he says. “These ones are just ambassadors to show the people that there are so many more back at home who need their help."
Help comes in the form of donations, as well as revenue from sales of children's choir merchandise. Here in the American South, singing in church is generally quite spirited, and the kids from Uganda were a big hit.
One man amazed by the performance said, "It was outstanding. It was one of the best concerts I have ever seen inside a church - and I have seen my share, too!”
The children, aged 6-10, continue their schoolwork as they travel. They also broaden their horizons by seeing other parts of the world and meeting people along the way.
Barnett says each group that goes out on tour must learn all the songs, how to perform them and how to work together as a unit. "The children start from scratch, and it takes five months to put together the program," he says, adding that the experience changes them in ways that are apparent when they return to their home villages.
"When they go back to visit, they see a changed boy or they see a changed friend,” Barnett says. “It really builds them up to work hard and know that, really, life is not just about suffering and being miserable.”
The African Children's Choir mostly performs in churches and auditoriums when on tour, but they have also appeared on major U.S. television programs, and one of their songs was used on the soundtrack of the recent movie Blood Diamond.