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A taste of Africa in Hillsboro

Ugandan children’s choir performs and talk of dreams

Staff writer

Hope.

It’s a simple wish.

We hope the high school football team wins its game Friday night. We hope the weather is pleasant for camping.

If you are a child in Uganda, your “hopes” and wishes would be different.

“I hope I have enough food to eat today.” “I hope I have someplace to sleep tonight.”

“I wish I could go to school and have hope for the future.”

Even the hardest of hearts softened Wednesday night and Thursday morning when 29 children from northern Uganda performed in Hillsboro and shared their stories of despair.

Matsiko Children’s Choir is sponsored by International Children’s Network.

The children, ages nine to 17, are performing throughout the U.S.

Beginning in January, the group, with their tutors so they can stay caught up with school work, has been on the road and will continue their odyssey until January 2009.

Don Winham, founder and president of ICN and the choir, was in Hillsboro with the group.

“The choir’s message is to provide hope. These children have overcome adversity because others have become involved,” he said. “It doesn’t take much.”

The choir was founded four years ago. Orphaned and at-risk children were selected to be a part of the troop.

“They were the poorest of the poor, the neediest of the needy,” Winham said.

The performers were taken from the streets and dump sites where they had lived and were given hope and a future.

Kiberu Sam Straxy is the choir director and songwriter and is from northern Uganda. He understands the plight these children have experienced because he, too, had seen firsthand the pain and suffering caused by rebel leaders.

Windham explained that the choir members were not chosen for their musical talents but by character.

“Musical abilities can be trained. Character cannot,” he said.

ICN began in 2003 after a group of friends in Washington state returned from an outreach trip to Uganda.

Similar groups had gone to the African country and had seen the same conditions. They saw children without shoes, with their stomachs pushed out because of malnutrition and parasites. Mothers worked for pennies a day and unable to send even one child to school.

With nothing more than a heart for children and a drive to see that none of these forgotten ones slipped through the cracks, ICN was born.

Through donations or sponsorships, contributors provide for children’s basic needs but it goes one step further. Not only are these children receiving food and clothing. They are receiving hope.

The common theme throughout the empowering performance of the choir/dance troop was “education means hope for the future.”

“Our goal is to sponsor 650 million children,” Winham said, and within the next years, form a world orphans’ choir.

Matt and Beth Cox and Cheri Marsh of Hillsboro were instrumental in scheduling the choir to perform in Hillsboro, Winham said.

“Friends knew someone in Hillsboro, so here we are,” he said.

Tim Holland, ICN media director, told the audience of students and adults Thursday morning that they were going to enjoy a taste of Africa.

Percussionists provided a rhythmic beat while choir members danced their way to their place in line.

The percussionists then joined the others and they sang “I Believe I can Fly.”

Throughout the course of the 45-minute performance, some of the children shared their stories.

Joseph is 15 years old.

“My sponsor saved my life,” he said in English.

Joseph’s father died from AIDS, a common cause of death in the bush area, when Joseph was eight. Joseph and his brother were sent to the streets to beg for food.

“I dream of becoming an accountant,” he said.

A video then was shown of abandoned and orphaned children. One little boy in the video cried as he told the story of his father dying and how the boy’s dreams now were gone because his mother could not afford to send him to school.

That same boy stepped forward from the choir and told the crowd that now he dreamed of being a lawyer.

When the children completed their performance, they ate lunch at the school, boarded the bus, and headed to Texas.

Holland said they perform six to eight shows per week, most church-affiliated.

Recently the group was in California for a performance where the wife of actor/director Clint Eastwood wife saw them. Afterward, she took the 29 singers to a local department store and bought them clothes, Holland said.

These children are examples of what can happen when people care, breaking the cycle of poverty and despair becomes hope.

For more information about International Children’s Network, go to icnchildren.net.

Last modified Oct. 1, 2008

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