- Associated Press - Sunday, February 7, 2016

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Since 1984, the African Children’s Choir has been giving kids from across the continent of Africa a chance to improve their lives.

The choir takes children from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries and gives them an opportunity to travel the world singing and performing for a year and then gives them the opportunity to have an education for as long as they want to pursue it.

In the past 20 years, the children have performed at places such as the Pentagon and the United Nations, the Royal Albert Hall in London, in the presence of The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Westminster Abbey and across the world.

At 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12 the African Children’s Choir will be performing in Florence at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1520 Rickwood Road.

The concert is free, however, donations to the choir are accepted. For details, call 256-766-3841.

Heidi Moen, tour leader for the choir that will be performing in Florence, said the organization was founded in 1984 when Ray Barnett was doing relief work in Uganda.

“He had picked up a small boy who had just lost both of his parents,” Moen said. “The little boy started singing in the car and was singing praises, and he thought well this boy is signing praises and he just lost everything.

“Barnett thought if only people could see this, this hope and joy this child still has, they’d want to do something about it. They’d want to help.”

And that began the African Children’s Choir, Moen said, to show the hope and potential of the African child.

She said the choir, in addition to helping the children, help show a different side of African children that is missed in commercials and in the news.

“You’re usually seeing all this despair and there’s no hope, they’re stuck where they are and with what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re bringing children here and helping them get educated, it’s showing where they can go in life and helping them get there.”

For her, she said, the choir gives her a different perspective on life.

“It’s really incredible, the children are so excited about life it’s really cool to see America through the eyes of these children,” Moen said. “It’s a whole new perspective for them, and it makes me see it that way as well.”

The choir will feature 18 kids who are 7 to 9 years old. This is the 44th African children’s choir. There are two other choirs touring, one in the UK and a new group that will start in March touring the West Coast.

The choir coming to Florence is half way through their East Coast and Southeastern tour and has been to 16 states so far including New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and Texas.

“They’re going to experience the African culture through the African songs and dances they’ll be performing as well as contemporary English worship songs that they’ll sing,” Moen said. “Expect a lot of energy from the children. That’s their favorite thing, it’s to perform.”

John McKell, pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, said they’ve hosted the choir twice before.

“They come in with enthusiasm and excitement, and they’re amazing kids,” McKell said.

The choir will come into Florence and spend a night with host families from the church.

“There is just a sense of closeness with these kids,” McKell said of the congregation members that host children and choir leaders. “They’re only here 24 to 48 hours, and by the time they leave most of the people involved in the program is just in tears because they’ve fallen in love with these kids. They’re amazing and their talents are beyond compare. It’s amazing to hear them sing.”

And it’s changed the way he sees African children as well.

“Normally what you see is depression and starvation and all the other things you’re used to seeing about, but that’s not the case,” he said. “They’ve been given hope because they have education guaranteed. With hope they become enthusiastic about life and throw themselves into it wholeheartedly.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/

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