February 10, 2018 10:02:29 PM
Isabelle Altman - [email protected]
The 10 children on the stage at Rosenzweig Arts Center Friday night didn't need to be asked by the adults in the audience what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Instead, the members of the Ugandan Kids Choir called out their answers to that age-old question -- 'Doctor!' 'Engineer!' 'Teacher!' -- as they jumped up and down in their brightly-colored costumes during a break between songs at their first of two concerts in the Golden Triangle this weekend.
The children in the choir, all between the ages of 8 and 12, are ambassadors for Childcare Worldwide, a Christian nonprofit organization that helps finance educational opportunities for impoverished children in seven different countries, said Ugandan Kids Choir tour leader, Michelle Holstein. For the past nine months, the children have been performing at churches and other venues around the country as part of raising awareness of other children in need and asking for sponsorships that will help pay for those children to go to school.
"They have an energy and a joy that is contagious and it is expressed very well through their music," Holstein said.
Sure enough, the children wore huge grins as they sang praise songs and performed dances traditional to their home country, while several more played drums. During one song, they left the stage to go into the audience and grab local children by the hand, inviting them up on stage to dance too.
The children are being hosted by Northside Christian Church of West Point. They will perform at the church's Sunday service at 11 a.m.
Childcare Worldwide works by recruiting sponsors who pay $40 per month to help fund education for a particular child, Holstein said. While the money is primarily to help pay for the child through trade school or college, some of the money also helps supplement access to food, clean water and medical care. Currently the organization has sponsors for about 6,000 children from Uganda, Kenya, Peru, Haiti, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.
The five boys and five girls in the Ugandan Kids Choir all have sponsors already. Now they help raise awareness of the organization so more children can receive sponsorship, Holstein said.
The choir members, who are different every year, all had to audition to secure spots in the choir, which is only open to kids from Uganda.
"They do sing and dance and do an English paper," choir director Karen Tulinomubezi said. "We really needed to know how they speak English and how fluent they are.
The children make sure to keep up with their studies when not performing and practicing, but that doesn't mean they haven't gotten to explore the places they've visited.
"Everyone has favorite places," Tulinomubezi said. "But some say ... Montana because (of) the mountains in Montana. ... We got to see the snow on the mountain and it was so nice."
Tulinomubezi, a choir director for five years, has worked with Childcare Worldwide for three years, though this is the first time she's directed the Ugandan Kids Choir, which has a new director every year.
"It's my inspiration," she said. "I love doing it."
Tulinomubezi is assisted by Godfrey Keera, who teaches the children dances and drumming. Keera has been working with the organization since he was 17, when he first went with the Ugandan Kids Choir to the U.S. as a chaperone, rather than a teacher. That was seven years ago. Now, he gets to know the children better, he said.
"They are so loving," he said. "They are so obedient. They are good kids. And they love God."
Song and dance
While the concert at Northside will be more 'church' music, the Rosenzweig concert focused on the children's heritage.
"It is more a traditional cultural performance," Tulinomubezi said. "You're going to have more traditional dances from the different parts of Uganda."
One of her favorite songs the children performed was 'Barakaza,' which is a Swahili word, she said.
"Barakaza means 'He has given me victory. I will lift him high,'" Tulinomubezi said.
The star of that song was 10-year-old Beatrice, who sang a solo while the other children backed her up.
"It's good when you're praising God," she said.
And Beatrice is in the right place -- when she grows up, she wants to be a musician.
"Sing and dance," she said. "I'll work with churches."
To learn more about the Ugandan Kids Choir, go to www.ChildcareWorldwide.org/choir.
Editor's note: Childcare Worldwide does not release choir members' last names to the media.