If you go
WHAT: Young Africans Choir
WHEN: 6 p.m. Feb. 1
WHERE: Grace United Methodist Church, 1601 Sam Rittenberg Blvd., West Ashley
COST: Free, an offering will be collected to support the choir member's college educations.
MORE INFO: Call 766-1621 or go to http://africanchildrenschoir.com.
When they were just 8 and 9 years old, a group of Kenyan and Ugandan youths toured the U.S. with the African Children's Choir raising money for their educations.
Now those children are young adults, fresh high school graduates eager to embrace their college educations and careers that can help transform their home countries.
Ages 19 to 21, they are back on tour and will stop in Charleston Saturday evening at Grace United Methodist Church for a choir performance featuring a blend of African and Western music.
The current 9-month tour will take the 14 singers, dancers and musicians across the Midwest and Southeast, offering them opportunities to see America, meet people and raise money - and take all of that home with them.
Along the way, they stay in local residents' homes and learn ideas that could change their hometowns in Africa. Some want to become doctors, others engineers, said Robbie Luninze, the tour's director and a former children's choir member himself from Uganda.
"They see a lot. This is a big opportunity for them to travel and then go home," Luninze said. "When they go back to their respective countries they can use the ideas they have gotten here."
The choir's parent organization, Music for Life, works in seven African countries and has educated more than 52,000 children and impacted twice that through its relief and development programs. Many children in its choirs have lost one or both parents to war, famine or disease.
"We want them to get an education in their given countries to use for change," Luninze said.
The Young Africans Choir combines African song and a full set of African instruments with traditional Western favorites.
"Expect a lot!" Luninze said, laughing. "Expect a lot of joy, love and hope. Our members know that there is still hope for Africa."
The show is a win-win both for the performers and their audiences. The choir members get to see the United States, and local audiences get a taste of African life directly from its people rather than from the latest news in headlines.
"Expect a piece of Africa and what life is like in Africa," Luninze said. "It offers strength to so many people to learn something different from their home environment."
The performance is free and open to the public, but an offering will be collected to help fund the choir members' college educations and other needs back home.
"We encourage people to give according to how they feel," Luninze said.
Luninze knows first-hand how the choir can changes lives. He was a children's choir member who then returned to his home in Uganda to attend college. Now 29, he is on his third tour, this time as tour leader and guide for the young adults during their journey.
"My life wouldn't be what it is today without the African Children's Choir," he said. "It's the full circle coming around."
For more about the choir, go to http://africanchildrenschoir.com.
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563, follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes or subscribe to her at facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.
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