The African Children’s Choir is coming

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, March 21, 2019

The children are coming back. After previous concerts in Red Lodge, the African Children’s Choir is returning as part of a major tour of America. 

“These children are primarily from Uganda,” said Tina Sipp, African Children’s Choir Manager. They have had choirs from Kenya in the past, another country in which they still work. The group, Music For Life, a Christian faith nonprofit, provides education to the children participating in the choir. “All those participating will have their education paid for through secondary school,” said Sipp. They will cover a college or technical school of their choice, as long as it’s in Uganda. “There are some good colleges there,” she said. They want to emphasize graduating and remaining to improve the homeland. 

Even elementary school “paid for” by the government costs money. These are families ravaged by war, “many single mothers with children” according to Sipp, and the government often charges something, as well as for books, pencils, and uniforms. They will kick kids out who can’t pay. 

Sipp says the government school is “not very good” with teachers underpaid and often absent. So Music for Life can provide its own lower education K-7, as well. 

The money from the concert goes to the next generation. “We raise the money each year on this our major and primary fundraising tour,” says Sipp. They guarantee 1000 new children a year an education.  There are products sold including a new album with recordings of the children by Grammy award-winning producer Luke Wooten. Donations will be taken at the concert.

Uganda is a country that has known years of civil war and bloodshed. You’d think these children would be in despair but Sipp said their founder Ray Barnett, went to Uganda 35 years ago in 1984, and received a different perspective on the children. 

“He picked up a boy walking to give him a ride.” He was stunned to see that after thousands of children had suffered devastation, many losing both parents, this child “sang praise songs during the whole journey. Their resiliency is amazing!” said Sipp.

For 35 years, they have been helping children through song. This year’s performance was created by a Ugandan composer, Price Kwaglala, who is adapting Christian hymns to African rhythms and styles. They are producing a new album of these works “merging the two worlds.”

Seventeen children will be performing this week. “The kids on stage are ambassadors,” said Sipp. She stresses that there is still much going on in Uganda. “They are from very vulnerable situations. Many single mothers work and struggle just to put food on the table.” Many people are still traumatized with households missing family members. 

Sipp sees great hope in supporting as many children as possible although it is just a small portion. “If you get a quality education, you have a better chance of breaking the cycle of poverty and become self-sustaining. Those with education are a low percentage. They will effect change in their communities.”  

Uganda has a history of conflict for power. The country lurched from the dictatorial control of Idi Amin, ending in 1979, during when an estimated 300,000-500,000 people were murdered to the repressive regime of Obote, during which time another estimated 100,000 people were killed and Uganda became known for having one of the world’s worst human rights records. 

In 1985, Obote was deposed and in the ensuing chaos, Museveni seized control of Uganda, proclaiming a government of national unity and declaring himself President. Museveni introduced democratic reforms and set about improving the country’s human rights records. However, the power struggle has continued, and since Museveni’s government has been in power, over 20 militant groups have tried to displace it, most notably the LRA.

But in the early 1990s, a civil war ensued in the North, this time with the LRA, the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony. Kony is claimed to wish to create a state based on the Bible’s Ten Commandments; in his bid to achieve this, a 21 year war ensued in which he is alleged to have abducted up to 40,000 children to serve as child soldiers or, for girls, “wives” to other soldiers. During the civil war in Northern Uganda, around 1.6 million people from Northern Uganda have been displaced and over 100,000 people abducted or mutilated by the LRA.

During his control of Northern Uganda, the LRA abducted and trained children to become soldiers, fighting for the revolution. According to, “Abductees were often forced to kill their own family members before being subjected to a grueling process that lasted months and turned innocent children into creative and callous torturers and killers.”

The civil war has finally ended with many people accustomed to living a life of deprivation, starvation and fear. 

Yet these children sing of love and hope, a vision to which they truly seem to bear witness. After being with the Choir 14 years Sipp says, “What I notice is people are very magnetized to the spirit of the children. These kids are incredible entertainers. They are gifted.” 

She said there is “an exuberance, that joy, that love of life that we often don’t see in our own children.” Perhaps it’s knowing all the loss in their lives that makes them grab so fiercely at life and happiness. 

Sipp concluded, “We have material wealth. They have extreme poverty but wealth of character beyond material wealth.” After reflecting, Sipp says, “Perhaps with the African Children’s Choir, people in the West get a dose of what they may be longing for.” 

The Choir will be at the Red Lodge Civic Center at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 24. 


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