Greeted with smiling faces and warm hugs, we instantly felt the warmth and care of Uganda. We were welcomed by a group of young adults who once toured with the African Children’s Choir. As we drove in, the sign caught my eye; below the familiar logo was the statement: Making a Difference. Within a matter of minutes, we were witnessing that difference first-hand.
This was the first time our Donor Services Team had been to Africa. Like many of you, those of us who work for Music for Life love to see the Choir when they come through town. But for most of us, some that have worked with the organization for over a decade, we had never been to Africa; we hadn’t seen the real-life, on-the-ground results of our work. Leadership at Music for Life decided that this was the year to change that.
After many hours of airports and flights, we landed at Entebbe International Airport on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda. In our first few days there, we met many of our long-distance co-workers for the very first time. So many faces and places that we had only seen in pictures were coming to life for us. The work that we do became tangible.
During our time in Uganda, the children selected for the 46th Choir began training for their tour. It was a privilege for us to spend time with them. We even had the honour of visiting some of their homes and meeting their families.
Despite having the knowledge that the Choir children came from impoverished areas, when we saw it for ourselves, our team was overcome by how truly desperate the circumstances of their families were.
To reach each home, we had to weave through a maze of dilapidated dwellings, washed out pathways, and ditches full of stagnant water and trash. Most of the homes are small, makeshift structures with only one or two rooms to house an entire family, often including relatives as well.
Many roofs leak when it rains; some homes can even flood at times. Those who live outside the city have to walk long distances to get water each day, and in certain seasons, their water source is not clean or safe to drink.
The conditions are unfathomable. It’s hard to understand how one can remain hopeful in the midst of the living conditions they face each day.
Our limited experiences of these daily realities highlighted the immense challenges faced by children in Uganda. Many of these challenges are ones that we’ve all seen and heard before, stories and circumstances that we can easily become apathetic toward from the opposite side of the world. But after meeting face to face with these vulnerable children in their own context, we began to get a more vivid sense of what they are up against.
Born into desperate poverty, they struggle through one day at a time, hoping and dreaming of a brighter future. The lives of many of these children are changed by attending Music for Life Centres or by receiving education and care through our sponsorship program.
At the end of our first week there, we visited the African Children’s Choir Primary School. It was an exciting opportunity for us to meet children from recent choirs and to reunite with some who we had met in North America in months and years past.
But beyond the excitement, it was incredible to experience the environment in which these kids live, learn, and grow. ACCPS provides a quality, well-rounded education, not only maintaining a high standard academically, but also creating the space for every child to grow socially, spiritually, and emotionally.
In a nation where each day is an obstacle, our primary school removes some of life’s daily challenges and worries, opening kids up to a new kind of freedom. With the assurance that they will be provided with things as essential as food and shelter today, and again tomorrow, the children are able to spend their time learning and growing like every child deserves to do. They are able to be kids again.
Throughout the trip, we spent many hours with University students, recent graduates, MFL staff and others who all toured with the African Children’s Choir when they were younger. It was incredibly encouraging to meet each of them and hear their stories, especially with our newly gained perspective of the circumstances that these very people were born into.
We were able to see the bigger picture—the long-term results of the Choir program. 10, 20 and 30 years after touring with the Choir as children, they have become confident, successful people, and are making extraordinary contributions to their communities. They have transcended the cycle of poverty that they were born into.
You may recognize the stories of some of these ChangeMakers [David, Nancy, Catherine], but for each one that we’ve introduced you to, there are numerous other intelligent, compassionate individuals giving back and serving those in need. These are the ones fulfilling the mission of Music for Life, changing the landscape of Africa and making a lasting difference in their nations.
A big part of our team’s role at Music for Life is to communicate the necessity of what we do, as well as the results; the opportunity to go to Africa provided us with a better understanding of both. We were able to witness and comprehend in a deeper way the impact Music for Life has on the life of each child we serve. We were able to see each step of the journey out of poverty, from the difficult circumstances we saw as we visited several homes, to the success and hope embodied by those who were once in the Choir and are now giving back.
Our work is made exceptionally more meaningful by experiencing the context in which it takes place. Our passion for what we do is multiplied when we can reflect on our own personal encounters with the children we serve, and we are inspired to share that with our faithful donors.
Reflecting on our time in Africa, I keep coming back to the words I read as we arrived. Making a Difference. Three simple words to encapsulate the stories of thousands.
For me personally, this has been validated. Our programs really are working. As we serve and empower the children of Africa, real lives are transformed and real people are impacted. The work of Music for Life truly is making a difference.