The African Children’s Choir is performing their newly redesigned show "Just As I Am" in Hamilton on Thursday, Nov. 1, and Missoula on Friday, Nov. 2.
The African Children's Choir touches the hearts of their audience by singing and dancing with charming smiles and beautiful voices. They will sing well-loved children's songs, traditional spirituals and gospel favorites.
Volunteer Janelle Hoekstra, 25, from Manitoba, Canada, on her second tour with the joyous singers shared the choir’s history.
She said the choir was started in 1984 by a man named Ray Barnett who gave a ride to an orphan boy in his car.
“The boy did not know where his next meal would come from, but he just sang in the car with such joy, dignity and exuberance that Ray was really moved,” Hoekstra said. “He thought, ‘If people could see this side of Africa the side of joy, excitement and potential that they would have a different view of the country’ so he started a choir.”
And 34 years later the African Children’s Choir continues to perform all over the world.
Music for Life, the parent organization for The African Children's Choir, works in the African countries of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa. It has educated over 52,000 children and impacted the lives of over 100,000 people through its relief and development programs. The goal is to create new leadership for tomorrow's Africa, by focusing on education.
Hoekstra is the leader of the 17-member choir coming to Montana.
“We have seven chaperones and we get to care for the kids, love on them, disciple them and enjoy life with them,” she said.
The group with nine girls and eight boys, age 10 to 18, do school lessons along the tour route.
“We do school on the road and where ever we are we find a room and a white board,” Hoekstra said. “We follow the Uganda school curriculum in the hopes that they will be able to jump right back into school where they would be had they not gone on tour. They are not missing their education.”
Hoekstra said the children are not homesick.
“They have such a different mindset and see this as an opportunity to see and learn so many new things,” she said. “We become such a family with the kids on the bus, the chaperones and the host homes. Everyone loves on these children and they know it is for such a short time that I don’t think they are thinking of homesickness.”
Hoekstra said she is involved in the African Children’s Choir because as a child, age 10 or 11, she attended one of their concerts.
“It impacted me — the kids performing were my age and I never forgot it,” she said.
After she attended university she was considering what to do and remembered that concert, looked up the information and applied to be a chaperone.
“These children have an innate ability to spread their joy, you cannot help but smile while watching them,” Hoekstra said. “Their attitude is infectious, they are energetic and it is just a wonderful evening of worship and enjoyment.”
The concert is free, and donations are welcome as the performances support African Children's Choir programs, such as education, care and relief and development.
Elke Olbricht, Hamilton parent volunteer and event coordinator, said there will be a love offering taken the night of the performance.
“You can sign up to sponsor a child for their education, you can sponsor their organization and that money goes to their funding for all the kids,” Olbricht said. “These kids are guaranteed education through university, that’s kind of their reward for the bravery of traveling.”
Olbricht her family has been a supporter of the African Children's Choir since the first concert they saw in 2003.
“The next time they came around they needed host families and we did that a few times,” she said. “In 2016, in the newsletter I get it said ‘performance dates available in Montana.’ I called and took it upon myself to make it happen.”
The African Children's Choir will give a public concert but Olbricht is also working on an educational assembly for Hamilton High School students that she hopes middle school students can attend as well.
“The educational assembly is more interactive with students,” Olbricht said. “They do drumming, dancing, a Q&A time, present regional information on where they come from and they do ‘What does my name mean?’”
She is still raising funds for that assembly and suggests donations to the Hamilton District Office, 406-363-2280, and the account is designated the African Children's Choir.
Olbricht said she loves the African Children's Choir.
“From the first concert I saw they just stole my heart,” she said. “I just never stopped following or participating when they came locally and it just grew. Now I just want everyone else to love them like I do and the only way is to have this experience.”
The African Children's Choir has performed for presidents, heads of state and most recently the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II, for her diamond jubilee. The choir has also had the honor of singing alongside artists such as Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Keith Urban, Mariah Carey, Michael W. Smith and other inspirational performers.
The African Children’s Choir performance will be at 7 p.m., at the Hamilton High School Performing Arts Center, 327 Fairgrounds Road, on Thursday, Nov. 1.
They will perform the following night at the Missoula Alliance Church, 100 E Foss Court, in Missoula. For the complete schedule visit online at africanchildrenschoir.com.