The civil war was upon Uganda, fear and uncertainty filled the air, but for Ray Barnett and The African Children’s Choir team it was a time of hope and joy, as the second choir were ready to embark on their first tour, but a challenge lay before them – getting the children across the border safely in these unpredictable times.
It was 1985 and the first African Children’s Choir had just finished their tour of North America and England and were now staying safely at a home in Holland, not able to yet return to their war torn home of Uganda. Unlike the first choir – and all of the choirs that have since followed – the children of the second African Children’s Choir were not selected, they were children taken in by the home, and because of their great need were formed purely through circumstances. Now, as a fully-fledged choir, they were waiting for their turn, their chance of a better future, a paid for education, and the opportunity to perform around the world.
Suzanne Nelson and the rest of the team were in Nairobi, awaiting their arrival, which left Ray, with the invaluable help of Robinah Lubwama, to gather the children in Uganda and get them safely across the Kenyan/Ugandan border. This was no easy feat, as they were preparing to leave, banned rebel forces were making their way from the other side of Kampala. The children packed their belongings quickly, full of excitement and anticipation for they were about to embark on a journey of a life time.
With all the children’s passports approved and present the plan was to take a bus to the Ugandan border where they could connect with an overnight bus into Nairobi. The team had rented a house on a coffee plantation in Thika, just outside Nairobi, where the children would stay.
Still full of excitement and energy the group, including the 32 children of the Choir, arrived at the Ugandan border only to be met by disappointment – the border was sealed. No one was to cross that evening. They could see the night bus awaiting its departure on the other side with no passengers able to cross to meet its invitation.
The group exited their current bus. Surrounded by all of their luggage and drums they were left to wait at the border with other travellers also unable to cross to their destinations. Night fell, and fires were lit. The smell of burning wood filled the air as the flames danced and glistened in the dark night sky.
Sitting idle, as if alone in a room, Sheba began playing the drums. A beautiful solo beat played out filling the tense atmosphere. One by one the children of the Choir sat around her and began to sing – they sung their hearts out. A chorus of spine tingly music sounded through the night sky and a large crowd formed around the children to see where these angelic voices were coming from.
Very soon everyone in the area was enjoying the Choir’s impulsive performance and the crowd beseeched the Ugandan border guards to let the children go through. After much persuasion the Choir were indeed welcomed across just in time to board the awaiting night bus to Nairobi – their soulful sound had touched hearts and allowed them across a sealed border.
But this wasn’t to be the only obstacle that the group would face that evening, no one could have predicted what lay waiting for them just a few miles on.
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