Name: Ray Barnett (Daddy Ray)
Role: Founder and CEO of the African Children’s Choir and Music for Life
Based In: British Columbia, Canada
Ray Barnett founded the African Children’s Choir in 1984. After hearing a radio broadcast discussing the 150,000 children starving to death in Northern Uganda, Ray felt compelled to help, and headed out to the affected area to see how he could make a difference.
Ray had visited Uganda some years before on a humanitarian trip to assist persecuted Christians in the time of Idi Amin’s brutal rule. While on this trip Ray and his travelling companions gave a ride to a young Ugandan boy who proceeded to light up their journey with his beautiful singing. His talent, happiness and hope shone brightly through his voice, which stayed with Ray.
When he returned to Uganda again in hope of helping the vulnerable children there Ray took inspiration from the talented youngster he had met previously and decided to show the western world the beauty, dignity of unlimited ability of the children of Africa through choir song – The first African Children’s Choir was formed.
Raised in the Coleraine area of County Derry, Northern Ireland, Ray struggled at school with writing and fitting in, due to his severe dyslexia, but found comfort and joy in reading. He later committed himself to God and moved to London to train as a minister.
After being taken in by a Methodist Church in London Ray had a change of direction, his evangelical mind and liberal heart led him to Saskatchewan, Canada, where he decided to go to Bible College instead. He was later ordained and carried out pastoral duties in the area.
Before founding The African Children’s Choir, Ray’s need to help others, coupled with his belief that his faith required action, led him to form the organisation Friends in the West. The charity created prayer groups for imprisoned Christians in war torn countries. They lobbied on the prisoners’ behalf and distributed prayer bracelets to keep the names of the suffering in the forefront of people’s minds and prayers.
Now, Ray is a father of three adult children Robert, Rheanne and Rhonda and husband to Ruth, and is “Daddy Ray” to the thousands of African children he has helped over the last 28 years.
His continuing role as founder and CEO of The African Children’s Choir and Music for Life has Ray overseeing all aspects of the charities from Choir operations to marketing. Ray holds a clear vision of how he would like the organisations to grow so that Music for Life and the African Children’s Choir can create more ChangeMakers for the future of Africa.
You can read more about Ray’s story on his blog – Ray’s Voice, but for now, we have asked him a few questions to get to know the inspirational leader of this innovative charity.
What are most proud of since founding the ACC?
To see the children from the first Choirs growing up in leadership positions. For example, I often say of the ACC, if I need a Doctor, I can call one of my children. If I need a Teacher, a Social Worker, a Lawyer, a Journalist. I have flown on flights with one of our Choir alumni as an Air Hostess. I have been watching the news in Kenya to find one of our former Choir children as the newscaster! And, of course, if we need good musicians, soloists, drummers, music teachers – they are in abundance! At this time we have some of our Choir alumni working in our own organization, some are working with other NGO’s like World Vision, SOS Villages, Samaritan’s Purse, are teaching/working in local schools and even in Government.
Any funny stories you would like to share?
We took the first Choir children to the Vancouver Aquarium for the Whale Show. I explained to the children that it was a whale like this that swallowed Jonah, as the Bible teaches. She looked at me with big eyes and said, “this very fish?” There are so many little funny stories like this, I could fill a book!
If you could sum up your job in a few words what would they be?
Helping thousands of children!
Do you have any words for people reading who may be thinking about volunteering or becoming a host family?It will change your life forever!
Who is your inspiration?
Pastor Elwood McRae. He and a few others encouraged me through difficult times to continue what I set out to do and to complete the mission.
Looking to the future of the ACC, what are you most excited about?
The continuing impact of the African Children’s Choir and each individual child as they mature and continue the mission of “Helping Africa’s most vulnerable children today, so they can help Africa tomorrow!”