Name: Sally France
Role: Africa Operations Director
Based In: Kapala, Uganda
Sally has worked as part of the African Children’s Choir family since its very beginning 28 years ago.
After growing up among the beautiful coastline and rolling hills of Dorset, England, a 13 year old Sally met her mum’s long lost brother – Ray Barnett, who later went on to become the founder of The African Children’s Choir.
While still at college Sally helped her uncle with his human rights organization Friends in the West, joining the organization full time after graduating. She continued working with the African Children’s Choir under the auspices of Music for Life.
Today, as Africa Operations Director, Sally is the organization’s representative in the field, overseeing all of the projects and programs run by Music for Life throughout East Africa. This includes caring for the hundreds of Choir children in full time education, overseeing projects such as Music for Life Center’s in Uganda and Kenya, the African Children’s Choir Primary School in Uganda, a secondary school and a teacher training college in South Sudan as well as many other inspirational programs serving the continent.
As you can imagine, her work keeps her very busy, and sees Sally travelling around Africa regularly. But when she is in Kampala, Uganda, which she has called home for 20 years, she enjoys nothing more than having her friends round to cook for them.
To get to know Sally and her role in more detail we asked her a few questions…
What is your most outstanding memory since working for the ACC?
The African Children’s Choir performing at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert in June 2012 was an amazing experience and meant a lot to me. I also love seeing the children who come into the Choir Training Academy blossom as they receive love and attention from our staff and have the opportunity to express themselves and develop their gifts.
Do you have a funny story about your time working for The ACC that you can share?
One year, one of the Choir children was held back from departing with the rest of the group due to a visa problem. A few weeks later I was accompanying him on his travels to catch up with the Choir. After learning our flight was delayed we returned to a local hotel to stay the night until the next flight in the morning. We hurried through the lobby to get to our room and stepped into the elevator. The doors clinked shut behind us and I pressed our floor number. Shortly after the doors opened with a ping, and hand in hand I led the boy out. Confused he froze, turned back to the elevator and said ‘Aunty, that room’? He couldn’t understand how the lobby had disappeared.
Can you describe your job role in 3 words?
Amazingly rewarding & fulfilling.
What experiences have impacted you the most whilst working for the ACC?
Whilst visiting Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 I felt engulfed by the pain of the emotionless faces of the children we encountered. In general African children, although poor and often suffering, express joy and happiness when seeing visitors – these Rwandan children had been affected so profoundly by trauma that they were physically there, but emotionally switched off. I’m happy to say that since this trip we forged a special relationship with the Gisimba Memorial Center, an orphanage in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali and assist them with their operational costs. We were able to provide food & shipments to the country and fund a number of community development projects as well as supporting children and staff with counselling for PTSD. Currently we provide sponsorship for over 20 Rwandan Choir children.
In May 1995 I had a brief hiatus from the organization where I used the time to complete a course in counselling. It was during this time that I learned how to communicate with traumatized children and studied the techniques needed to break through their distress. I then travelled to Sudan and joined up with a former Choir chaperone who had trained in psychology and together we began to train the teachers of some of the primary schools established in S. Sudan by MFL on how to use the skills we had learned to help the children they taught, children who had been exposed to death and disease during the civil war. Many of the teachers were soldiers back from the front line. The teachers opened up about their own experiences which helped them deal with what they had been through. Seeing the relief on their faces as they realized they were not alone and watching them begin to heal, knowing that they could pass this onto the children in their care was so wonderful.
Do you have any advice for people reading who may be thinking of becoming a volunteer or hosting the Choir children?
To anyone thinking of volunteering for the African Children’s Choir I would say that this will be a truly life changing decision. It is a challenging experience that will stretch you like no other, but the rewards will far outweigh the challenge. You will make lifelong friends and greatly impact the lives of some very special children.
Hosting the Choir children is a wonderful opportunity to get to know the children in a meaningful way, first hand. By having the children in your home you will be touched by their infectious joy and faith, and if you have children of your own, it’s a great opportunity to expose them to, and teach them about, a new culture.
What or who is your inspiration?
At the age of 13 my mother’s birth brother came into my life and changed the direction of my path completely. Ray opened my eyes to Christian ministry and taught me that life can be such an adventure. He has been a true inspiration in my life.
Looking to the future of the ACC, what are you most excited about?
It brings me joy that the Choir children will continue to carry forward and fulfil the vision of ‘Helping Africa’s most vulnerable children today so they can help Africa tomorrow’, Nothing gives me as much pleasure as working alongside adult former Choir children as they raise the next generation of ChangeMakers. Watching others using their sponsored education to become doctors, nurses, teachers and other professions in their home countries all with a heart to make a difference. I look forward to reaching out to more children in different areas in-need.