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African Children’s Choir offers audiences a ‘wealth of spirit’

African Children's Choir in Burnet

The African’s Children’s Choir performs at 6 p.m. at Burnet Presbyterian Church, 101 S. Pierce St. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Courtesy photo

It has been 16 years since African Children’s Choir manager Tina Sipp met a young girl named Peace. But despite the years and the distance between them, the two remain connected. Sipp, who is living in Washington state, recently spent 45 minutes on the phone with Peace, now an accountant in Rwanda.

“Here’s a little girl who lost her daddy, and her mom couldn’t care for her. … She had no future, no hope,” Sipp said. “She’s now an accountant in Rwanda, and, more than that, she’s a leader in her community, in her church. That’s what the choir does.”

As Sipp reflected on the African Children’s Choir, she spoke of hope, but not just for the children.

“I think we need their message,” she said. “I think we need to be called back to a life that is deep, and connected. They give us hope.”

Highland Lakes residents can experience the hope and joy of the African Children’s Choir during a performance starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, January 2, at Burnet Presbyterian Church, 101 S. Pierce St. Admission is free, but love offerings are appreciated. African Children’s Choir items also will be available for purchase.

The African Children’s Choir, which is made up of performers ages 7-10, began more than 35 years ago when Ray Barnett saw the devastation of a war-torn Uganda firsthand. During his trip, Barnett gave a ride to a little boy from his village to a nearby one. As they traveled together, the little boy sang of hope and dignity.

That experience led Barnett to create the African Children’s Choir.

Organizers brought together children orphaned from the war and took them on a singing tour of the United States and Canada, not just to raise money for the kids but to make Westerners aware of their plight. That first tour in 1984 was such as success that Barnett and others kept it going, each year bringing a new group of children on tour.

Since then, Sipp said, the African Children’s Choir has helped educate 50,000 children from elementary through college and touched the lives of more than 100,000 people in Africa.

The choir, which is in its 50th edition, tours the United States, Canada, and other Western nations. The children perform while also learning under the guidance of teachers who travel with them. The money raised from the tours and merchandising supports the children, builds schools, provides counseling services, and pays for camps.

The children who make up the choir are often orphans or their parents can’t raise them for a number of reasons. In many African nations, Sipp said, parents have to pay for their children’s schooling, including tuition, books, uniforms, and, in some cases, board.

Without an education, children often find themselves in similar circumstances to their parents.

“(The choir is) about breaking that cycle,” Sipp said.

Through the African Children’s Choir and its programs, kids often grow up to be leaders in their communities and churches.

“They’re not defined by their impoverishment; they’re defined by their potential,” Sipp said. “And these concerts, we’re in the process of releasing that potential. We’re inviting people to be part of that release.”

The concerts are an experience. They’re a mix of music, color, laughter, and joy.

“This is not just a concert, it’s not just music,” Sipp said. “We’re changing the tide.”

It can also be a tide change for the audience.

Sipp said these children, born in poverty, offer American audiences something they might be missing.

“We think we’re the wealthy ones, but these kids turn that upside down with their joy and resilience,” she said. “We get this chance to be with them, and we get to help make a 180-degree change in their lives, but, all the while, they are giving us a wealth of spirit. That’s what I want people to feel, to experience by coming to a concert.”

While African Children’s Choir organizers bring the kids to the United States, Sipp said the real difference makers are the churches that hold the concerts and the congregants who serve as hosts for the children.

“They are part of the village now,” she said. “They are why these children have a future and, you know, go on to become accountants and leaders in their churches. We want to invite everyone to come to the concert and become part of this bigger village.”