Eighteen miniature musical ambassadors from Uganda are about to take the Central Coast by storm.
The African Children’s Choir will perform Sunday at Shouts of Grace Church, which meets at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande, and Monday at Hillside Church in Grover Beach.
Clad in colorful costumes, the children, who range in age from 7 to 11, will perform gospel songs, spirituals and traditional African songs and dances. They sing in English as well as Luganda, Swahili and other tribal languages.
“It’s really eye-opening to see these children sharing that piece of their culture,” said Sarah Lidstone, North American choir operations manager for the Music for Life Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Founded by human rights activist Ray Barnett in 1984, the African Children’s Choir and its parent organization, Music for Life, work with children whose lives have been affected by war, famine, poverty and disease.
“The goal is to work with the children who need it the most,” explained Lidstone, whose organization is active in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and South Sudan. “These children don’t have the resources to able to have an education and proper meals and a healthy life.”
By participating in choir tours, she said, these young singers boost international awareness of the needs of destitute and orphaned African children while raising funds for education, relief and development programs.
They also spread an appreciation for African culture and music, she added.
“If you were to ask them, they would (say they) feel pretty passionate about their responsibility to share the beauty of Africa and the hope that is there,” Lidstone said.
Children train for four to six months in preparation for each tour, then spend a year abroad with former choir members and other chaperones. Between performances, they typically stay with families from local churches, taking side excursions to the beach or the zoo.
Lidstone said traveling overseas can be a transformative experience for the children, many of whom have never before encountered a hot shower or a washing machine, explored a grocery store or stepped on an airplane.
“They always meet it with a lot of questions and a lot of excitement and taking it all in,” she said.
After returning home, the children receive sponsorships that allow them to complete their educations. Over the years, the African Children’s Choir and Music for Life have educated more than 52,000 children. Past participants have gone on to become news broadcasters, doctors and lawyers, Lidstone said.
Ultimately, Lidstone said, Music for Life is seeking to train “changemakers” who will transform their hometowns.
“We want to … equip them to be leaders in their communities and provide the changes that they need,” she said, giving them strength, confidence and an unshakeable sense of self-worth.
IF YOU GO
African Children’s Choir
10 a.m. Sunday
Clark Center for the Performing Arts, 487 Fair Oaks Ave., Arroyo Grande
474-5729 or http://shoutsof gracechurch.com
7 p.m. Monday
Hillside Church, 1935 Newport Ave., Grover Beach
Free, donations welcome