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African Children’s Choir to perform in Camden

Posted: August 20, 2015 6:36 p.m.
Updated: August 21, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Lynne Dobson/African Children’s Choir

Pictured are current members of the African Children’s Choir, from Uganda, who will be performing in the United States for a tour beginning in September. The choir, founded 31 years ago, will be in concert at Bethel Worship Center in Camden on Sept. 20.

Eighteen boys and girls from Uganda will perform in concert at Camden’s Bethel Worship Center on Sept. 20. The children are members of the African Children’s choir which has performed for a variety of audiences from heads of state to local church congregations. 

The concert is free, although donations are welcomed to help educate the children or assist the choir program. Funds also help with other education and relief programs in Africa. 

 The African Children’s choir was founded in 1984 by Ray Barnett who did humanitarian work overseas and assisted persecuted Christians and churches. Barnett traveled to Uganda during and following the aftermath of Dictator Idi Amin’s reign during which thousands of Ugandans were murdered.

“He went and saw the number of children left orphaned; he was there for five or six years. Barnett was asked to give a boy a ride to another village and that little boy sang hymns and praise songs in his language all the way there,” African Children Choir Manager Tina Sipp said. “He thought if the West could see the potential of these children, they would want to help.”

Ugandan children, many who lived in poverty or were orphaned, were selected for the first choir and musically trained. The choir’s first tour was to churches in the United States and donations from the tour financed an orphanage.

“Some from the first choir members are still involved in the organization. They have grown up to be doctors, engineers, nurses … all kind of things,” Sipp said.

The African Children’s Choir performed at Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, performed for Nelson Mandela and performed with Josh Groban on American Idol and with other artists such as Mariah Carey and Paul McCartney.  

Thirty-one years after its founding, the African Children’s Choir 44th group of children is traveling to the United States to perform at churches across the nation from September to April.

Sipp said donations from the choir performances help support 7,000 to 8,000 other children back in Uganda. It is a part of the choir’s mission to provide education for Ugandan children. Donations pay for meals, a uniform and books for the students who are supported through the funds raised from the choir.

“It is our hope to help an individual child get the education they would otherwise never get. That’s the short term. For the long term we hope to make an impact on Africa -- to raise future leaders who will be positive for those countries,” Sipp said. “Our goal is to educate as many children as we can. In some areas we might have to start with a literacy program and get them caught up. They might be 10 years old but in 1st grade.”

For the children, who range from age 7 to 10, coming to the United States or going to other countries to tour is unlike anything they have ever experienced.

“The food is new to them -- seeing a dishwasher for first time is new, having their first pancake or first waffle is new,” Sipp said describing some of the experiences they might have for the first time while on tour.

Chaperones accompany the children on tour, two of whom are from Uganda.

“The chaperones from Uganda are usually former choir children -- ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ is what the children call them. There are Western chaperones who are completely volunteer, they are on a mission to care for the children,” Sipp said.

A typical day in the life of a child in the African Children’s Choir depends on if they are on a “school day” or on a “travel day.”

“On the school day, the host church allows them to use rooms for schooling and rehearsal. They might have one or two rehearsal times and lunch break. Students are then picked up by their host families and have dinner. They might go to parks to play soccer or go sightseeing,” Sipp said. 

A travel day consists of getting the children to their performance venue.

“When they get to the next site, the children have a nap, a preconcert dinner then they change and perform,” Sipp said.

Sipp said she did not personally realize the sacrifice the children in Uganda had to make to seek an education.

“I did not understand the magnitude of the importance of education until I saw the landscape in Africa and the commitment of children to get to school. Many have to start (going to school) in the dark and these groups of children head to school with a plastic grocery bag tied around their book,” Sipp said, adding having an education can be the difference between poverty and being able to make a living. “In the West, we can have a laissez faire attitude of schooling where many children don’t even enjoy going to school. But, here, they are begging to go to school. They know that it is their only way out of poverty. Education is profound, it is profoundly altering the course of a life. I want people to know what an impact they have a chance to make.”

Sipp also thanked all who have or will contribute to the African Children’s Choir.

“I believe God cares about this work. It’s a joy and a privilege. Thank you for investing with us. It translates into something humanly significant and eternally significant as well,” she said.

Bethel Worship Center is at 814 Fair St. in Camden. The African Children’s Choir concert on Sept. 20 will begin at 7 p.m.


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