MOUNT VERNON — Jubilant voices united as one in Christian songs, deft dance moves, and powerful long drums of the Muwendo Children’s Choir filled the Woodward Theater for one hour Saturday afternoon, part of the Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival entertainment.
The crowd at the Woodward Theater gave the choir from Uganda, made up of 15 children and four musical directors, a standing ovation. The Dan Emmett Festival is part of the group’s six-month tour, and this is their first time in America.
Muwendo Children’s Choir also performed Saturday on the festival’s south stage at noon, two hours prior to their Woodward show. They were so well liked, in fact, that Dan Emmett festival organizers invited them to perform yet again — this time on the main stage — for an unscheduled 5:30 p.m. performance.
As happy as these Ugandan children are in expressing musical performance, coming from the Treasured Kids School in Uganda’s capital of Kampala, the importance of their six-month stay in the United States is all about purpose. And it will be through early December, when they return home.
“Children in their community do not go to school without a sponsor,” said Ross Gerber, who is Treasured Kids School’s American contact through Strategic Ministry Partnerships International (SMPI).
Gerber is based in Sturgis, Michigan. Over the past decade, he has developed a faith-based relationship with Deo M. Mwanje, who is president and founder of the school of approximately 300 students. Both were on hand Saturday to speak to the Woodward Theater audience. Muwendo Children’s Choir is part of a Christian ministry under Heart for African People. The choir and its mission is found at www.muwendoministries.org, which partners with SMPI, found at smpilonline.org. The school has existed for 18 years.
Children in the poverty-stricken community of Kampala where the Treasured Kids Schools is located are beset with odds stacked against them from birth, Gerber and Mwanje both said. They are often forced to live in the barest of conditions and eat food from trash receptacles left by the government. Mwanje said he was one of those poor children at one time, not putting on shoes until age 16, and not being a passenger in a car until age 14, offering, “I could go on and on.”
“It’s a blessing that you have allowed us to come into your home,” Mwanje told the Woodward audience. “You are transforming lives when you give gifts.”
The cost of child sponsorship is $35 per month for a primary school student, or $50 for a high school student. On Saturday, Gerber and Mwanje said they were pleased to receive pledges of sponsorship from people they described as caring individuals in Mount Vernon. The choir, with its 15 children, and six adults from Uganda, along with Gerber and his wife Jennifer, travel around Ohio and Michigan in what resembles a small school bus. The goal is to reach 600 sponsorships before they return to Uganda. Patrons may also give cash donations and purchase hand-crafted items from the choir when it’s in town. Muwendo Children’s Choir’s most recent stop before the Dan Emmett Festival was Light of the Valley church in Walnut Creek.
The amount of calories the children expend while performing high-energy singing, dancing, and playing drums is mind boggling, one audience member said. Several children took turns singing at the microphone while their peers danced around them. Each singer/dancer wore what resembled pom-poms at their waist, either green or gold in color. They wore their Muwendo Children’s Choir shirts and all wore blue jeans. Most danced barefoot.
Several Ugandan adults took turns sitting in a chair just in front of Woodwind’s front row, directing the students as they sang warm-hearted Christian songs of faith and hope, either in English or their Ugandan language. School attendance gives them a chance to learn English.
One of the choir directors, Joy Nakamanya, is also the Treasured Kids School’s music director. She also played the long drums on some songs.
“She has an absolutely beautiful singing voice,” Gerber said.