Eight-year-old Blessing and 10-year-old Peter have big dreams.
“I want to be a bank manager,” Blessing said with a big smile. “I like money.”
“I want to be a pilot,” said Peter, who only recently went on his first airplane ride. “I want to travel the world.”
Those dreams could be well within their reach because the two Ugandan children are members of the African Children’s Choir. Part of the mission of the world-renowned choir, part of a non-profit Christian organization, is to provide educational opportunities for some of Africa’s poorest children.
The group raises money through donations made while the choirs (there are usually two at any given time) tour through North America and Europe.
Blessing, Peter and 16 other Ugandan children are members of Choir 46, which just started its months-long East Coast tour last week in Raleigh. This weekend, they are in the Cape Fear area, with Sunday morning concerts in Wilmington and a Sunday night concert at Brunswick Community College.
For the kids, who spent four months training in Uganda before arriving in the United States about a month ago, everything is new: the country, the culture, the people, and most importantly, the food.
“I like to eat hamburgers,” Blessing said. “I also really like to eat waffles with jam made from grapes.”
Peter, one of the boys who gets to play the drums during the traditional African numbers the choir performs (along with praise and worship songs they sing in English), chimes in.
“I like pizza!” Peter said excitedly, adding that he likes it with pepperoni.
While the children are practicing, playing and experiencing the different aspects of being on tour, several adult chaperones are making sure everything’s OK. One of those chaperones, David Sewanonda, knows exactly what the kids are going through.
“I was a member of the choir from 1996 to 1998,” Sewanonda said, noting that he was part of three different choir tours. “I was just a child, only seven years old, when I first came here.”
Sewanonda said he knows just how impactful the African Children’s Choir can be on one’s life. Thanks to sponsorships from people who watched him sing as a young boy all those years ago, he was able to get an education, an advantage that is expensive in Uganda.
Sewanonda graduated two years ago from Makerere University in the Ugandan capital of Kampala with a degree in fisheries and aquaculture. He took a break from his job to volunteer with the choir and help the kids transition from life in the slums of his home country to life on the road in America.
“We do a lot of talking and explaining to them about the different things they see and hear and eat,” Sewanonda said, adding that none of the children in Choir 46 have ever seen the ocean or been on a boat, which they hope to do this week while they’re in town.
Because the African Children’s Choir put him in the position he is now, with a college degree and a job, Sewanonda said he wanted to give back to the organization.
“They will provide these children with the opportunity for an education, just like they did for me,” Sewanonda said. “I’m so thankful for that experience that I had with the choir as a child and for what they did for my life.”
Blessing and Peter, who are at the very beginning of their time with the choir, may not quite fully grasp the opportunities available to them yet, but they are being encouraged to dream big. In the short term, their goals are simple but just as fulfilling.
“I love singing and dancing for people,” Blessing said. “We have a lot of fun.”
Peter, who takes pride in his drumming, agreed.
“I love to make people smile,” Peter said with a huge toothy grin of his own. “I like to make people happy.”