CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Each year, children from some of Africa's poorest countries try out for the African Children's Choir.
Many of them have lost one or both parents to poverty or disease. The youngest member is 7 years old. The oldest is 12.
For these children, singing in the choir is a way to break free from the hopelessness and poverty they face in their homelands.
"Their living arrangement is very basic: live in a mud house or a brick house," explained Vic Thiessen, a tour leader for the African Children's Choir.
"Generally they don't have plumbing or electricity so the kids are walking some distance to bring water home in a jerry can," Thiessen added.
In its 20-plus years, the choir has given children from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana the chance to express themselves in song.
The group has released a number of albums and performed at major events and venues around the world.
Those fortunate enough to be chosen for the choir are sent to a music training camp, where they learn to perform before an audience. They also study academics and attend Sunday school.
A Chance to See the World
Each year, two choirs are chosen to go on tour and share the good news of Jesus Christ through song.
Organizers say touring helps them raise money to give each child a quality education in their native land. The kids are also exposed to a world of new possibilities and wonders.
"It's not often the luxuries that fascinate them -- but little things like electric hair dryers or an escalator or something simple like that," Thiessen told CBN News.
"My favorite place is New York, and I like how they put the buildings, like how it looks like," choir member Emmason Jayala said.
"We get to meet so much and try new foods," said Sonia Kyampiire, another young choir member. "I like lasagna."
When the tour ends, the kids return to Africa equipped with fresh hope and sponsors dedicated to helping them excel academically.
Many are eager to return home to share their experience with loved ones.
"I will tell them I had a lot of fun," Emmason said. "I never thought that I have fun like this much."
Music for Life
While touring with the choir, the children stay with host families selected from churches where they'll perform.
To bring a similar experience to children outside the choir program, the music training camp Music for Life partners with community schools in Uganda and Kenya for "life centers."
The centers offer an afterschool program once a week that includes music, dance, arts and crafts, life skills training, homework help and one-on-one interaction between the children and center volunteers.
Each center has about 50 chiildren attending each week.
While on tour, audiences are invited to financially sponsor members of the choir as well as help other kids through the Music for Life centers.
The program provides a long-term opportunity to make a difference in the life of an African child who otherwise might not have the chance for a quality education.
Sponorship has a direct impact on the life of a child, their families and communties.
The program's current focus is in Uganda, where sponors can decide whether to support a needy boy or girl in the category of their choice.
The children live with their families or caregivers and attend the community schools supported by Music for Life. Their care includes tuition and school fees, school supplies, uniforms and a meal each day, until they have completed high school.
Prayer for the Future
While mindful of the challenges that remain back home, they are filled with faith for a brighter future for themselves and others.
"I'm praying to God so other people can come in the choir, and they can have sponsors like me," Sonia said.
Emmason predicted that when he grew up he would be the president of Uganda.
"I help my country and make it a better place," he said.
*Originally aired on December 9, 2011.