This post was written by Sandra, who toured with the 24th African Children’s Choir, as well as with the Base Choir in 2007. She most recently toured with Ubuntu in the spring of 2016. Sandra is 20 years old and just began her post-secondary education. She is pursuing a career in international relations.
I was born into a family not foreign to most Ugandan children. An absent father and teenage mother who had no idea how she was going to survive let alone take care of a young sickly baby. Alone, afraid and desperate, my mother could have chosen a different path. She could have abandoned me at a neighbour’s doorstep, left me in the community rubbish heap, or dropped me in the pit latrine that graced the back of our yard. Any of these fates would not be terribly uncommon for an unplanned baby in Uganda. She could have easily walked away from her enormous burden, but she didn’t. She chose the right path. She chose me.
My grandmother worked at a small local school that served as a church on the weekends, thus beginning my introduction to music. My six-year-old self just wanted a chance to let go, to forget the hunger, sorrow, despair, and tears that frequented my body and soul. Music wasn’t just my escape, it was my sanctuary. It captivated me. I was enthralled and in awe of this melodic language that everyone in church seemed to know. It was more than just music, it was a force I didn’t quite understand. What was this force that allowed worshippers to surrender their fears? What was this force that swayed the congregation like waves across an ocean? Whatever it was that made my dear mother stretch her arms outward and sing with unabashed joy, I loved it.
In 2003, I was selected to sing in the African Children’s Choir, where my relationship with music was driven to deeper depths. Music took me on a journey miles away from home. When we sang, audiences were able to experience our hope for the future, our determination to better our families and societies, our ambitions and dreams. Through music, people saw the pasts we wanted to rewrite and the futures we wanted to carve out for ourselves and our communities. Each time that we sang, our audience responded and were moved by our stories. Through music we spread the gospel, we glorified our Heavenly Father, we preached hope and healing, and we transformed the way people saw and perceived Africa. She was not the dark continent destined to be destitute without continuous aid from the West. She was a bright, colourful, fertile land, full of potential and possibility, determined to build itself up.
While our music entertained and enlightened thousands of spectators, it was also a healing salve for each individual in the choir. It filled our hearts with joy and instilled in us the ability to hope and dream – something many of us had never dared to do before.
The choir became more than an ensemble of singing children; it became a tight-knit haven of trusted friends and confidants. Through the choir, we developed friendships we didn’t even know we longed for. We received a love we didn’t realise we’d lacked. The choir was a nurturing influence that enabled us to grow into the best possible versions of ourselves, despite our backgrounds.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point, music ceased being just a part of me; it became me! Music eroded my shyness and replaced it with confidence. It flushed away my insecurities and made me feel whole and worthy. It rescued me from the depths of loss and pain. It kept loneliness at bay.
I believe in the power of music. I’ve seen music heal those around me. I’ve felt music heal me from the inside out. I believe that if music can change a person then it most definitely can transform a nation.
“Music gives wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, hope to the hopeless, and life to everything.”