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Singing ambassadors: African Children's Choir to present concert Sunday at St. Mary's

At age 8, Francis Kato Bbosa was selected to become a member of the second African Children's Choir. Before that, he'd had little education, because his parents didn't have enough money to care for him or provide an education. While on tour with the choir, he started his studies, and last year, he graduated with a diploma in radio, TV production and journalism. He recently worked on a camera crew for a film about former dictator Idi Amin, "The Last King of Scotland."

Barbara Kayaga's father, a pastor, died before she was born. Another pastor took her in, but he had so many children that he was unable to provide for them all. So Kayaga became a resident at a children's home and was selected to tour with the African Children's Choir twice, with choirs 5 and 7. She received a government scholarship to attend Makere University and graduated last year with a diploma in music, dance and drama.

Now adults, Bbosa and Kayaga are again touring with the African Children's Choir, this time as chaperones with the group -- choir No. 28 -- that will present a concert Sunday at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Worthington.

The African Children's Choir is a group of 25 children, ages 6 to 10, who are selected from among those most in need in Africa. Each of the children has lost one or both parents to poverty or disease, often AIDS. The current choir is composed of children from Uganda. They provide a variety of songs accompanied by drums and ethnic instrumentation, including well-loved children's songs, gospel melodies and lively spirituals. The current tour began in May 2006 in Washington State.

The choir's founder is Ray Barnett, a human rights worker from Canada who arrived in Uganda in 1978 to research a book about the years of dictatorship and terror that had devastated the country. He found a country in ruins and was especially struck by the plight of orphaned children who spent their days hunting for food and water or begging and scavenging in the city streets. For the next six years, Barnett raised money and set up small relief projects. When he heard a news report about 150,000 children starving in northern Uganda, he boarded a plane to see for himself what was happening.

"While we were in Uganda, we gave a lift to a very small boy, and he sang for the entire journey in the car," Barnett related. "When I got back to Canada and people were not very interested in Uganda, I remembered this small boy. I thought, 'If we could take a group of these beautiful children to the West, it would surely raise money to help their country.'"

The first African Children's Choir tour was to Canada in the fall of 1984. By communicating the desperate plight of children in Africa, the choir members raised enough money to open the Makerere Children's Home in Uganda and to provide for their own educations.

Although Barnett originally envisioned the choir tour as a one-time endeavor, its success and the continuing needs of the children in Africa convinced him to do it again. Since then, through Music for Life, the foundation that Barnett started, homes and schools have been started in seven African nations. Currently, support is provided for more than 6,700 children in Africa.

Dave Kinsman, youth and family director at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Worthington, first heard the African Children's Choir when they performed at another parish where he worked. This will be the third time that he is involved in hosting the choir and hopes that the Worthington community will benefit from the choir's visit.

"We can't all go over to a Third-World country to help these orphans," he reflected. "So it's kind of like bringing Africa here. Through a free-will offering, it helps with their education and to develop eventual leaders in a Third-World country."

Kinsman and his family hosted three choir members when they lived in Pierre, S.D. Although that visit was just a one-night stay, Kinsman said the students definitely made an impact. This time, the students will be in Worthington from Sunday through Wednesday morning, and nine host families have opened their homes to the choir. During that time, the choir will also spend some time at St. Mary's School, giving the local students a chance to interact with the choir members.

"It brings it home a little bit," Kinsman said.

The African Children's Choir will perform at 6 p.m. Sunday at St. Mary's Church, 1215 Seventh Ave., Worthington. Admission is by free-will donation during the concert, with all proceeds going to support education and care of children in Africa.

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Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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