Over the next couple weeks, the African Children’s Choir will be visiting several churches and community centers around Spokane. The group will perform a series of traditional hymns put to African rhythms from their newest album “Just As I Am.”
Tina Sipp of Spokane is the choir’s manager. Sipp has had a special place in her heart for the organization since seeing a performance in the early ’90s. A different group of children now makes up the choir of course, but the energy and mission haven’t changed.
“I never forgot them,” Sipp said. “I saw them a couple more times and then I said, ‘I’ve just got to do this. I’ve got to get on the road with these children, I’ve got to know them, they’ve got to change me.’
“I really think that what people get from the program … is the spirit of the children. They see the smiles, that joy, that hope, resiliency, character. I think it touches something in our souls that we long for and that we’ve been missing. These innocent, unaware, humble, little children from another continent that we think are so needy are ministering to us.”
Sipp has now been involved with the organization for 15 years and looks forward to sharing her hometown with these children who have had such an effect on her.
The young Christian group of Ugandan boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 10 performs all over the world to support the education of children in their communities at home.
“They are ambassadors for so many more back home that are being educated in our programs and they do such a beautiful job of that,” Sipp said. “We really camp on the beauty, dignity and potential of the child and showcase that the only thing they lack is opportunity.”
Many children are not able to attend even government schools because they cannot afford uniforms and classroom supplies.
“We do tell their story because their story is true and real, that they wouldn’t receive education unless people helped them. We’re not ashamed to raise money for that,” Sipp said. “At the same time, we don’t want to perpetuate this kind of poor, pathetic image of Africa. That doesn’t define Africa. They have challenges, but so do we.”
Before touring with the choir, the children go through six months of musical training in addition to their regular schooling. Then, after another six months of touring, the children go back to Uganda and complete their schooling.
“We don’t take them out of their communities for schooling,” Sipp said. “They do go to boarding school,” which is the norm in Uganda, “but on their term breaks, they go back to their communities. They go back to their families and that’s where we want them to shine their light: in their communities.”
The donations garnered from choir performances go toward the funding of 35 education programs throughout Africa and support the education of these children for as long as they desire.
“Once the child is in the choir, they’re part of our family for their life. They don’t age out,” Sipp said. “When they complete secondary, we continue to pay for their education through post-secondary. So if they go to university or through a certificate program, whatever it is that they would enjoy doing or would like to do and qualify, their education is paid all the way through that level.”
The program provides the choir members with experiences they might never have had otherwise. Along with English immersion, critical for their education, they are also given the opportunity to visit other countries and meet people while forming connections with their tourmates and tour chaperones, or as they call them “aunties and uncles.”
“I just don’t think there’s a lot of things in my life that I get to do that are profound,” Sipp said. “But this is really so profound. We’re not just making a one degree change; it’s a complete 180 from where they’re heading. Their radius of experience might just be a couple miles before they come on tour.”
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