Ugandan Robbie Luninze's life was changed at 8 years old.
Luninze was from an impoverished background in a family of seven children where his mother struggled to feed the family. Then when he was a young boy, he was chosen to join the African Children's Choir. With some thanks to the choir's education programs, Luninze graduated from high school and Uganda's Makerere University with a degree in business administration. He has since traveled the world – visiting countries such as Germany, Singapore and Malaysia – as a tour leader for the choir.
“My life before the choir was terrible,” he said. “But since the choir, my life has been turned around.”
Music helped him achieve what he, at one time, thought was impossible.
“With music, there's a lot of hope. There is a little bit in you that can sing out even when you can't say much. That brings a lot of hope and energy. It's a deep reaching message,” he said.
Luninze and choir members are coming to Fort Wayne at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Joseph United Methodist Church for a choral and dance performance called Young Africans, which consists of young adults who toured with the African Children's Choir years ago and are on the road again for a performance tour.
The Young Africans' performance not only involves singing African music, but members also play a variety of instruments including drums, xylophones, African keyboards and there's even dancing.
Both the Young Africans and African Children's Choir are part of the faith-based organization Music for Life. The choirs' tours and sponsorships help fund schools and education for children in seven African countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.
Music for Life started nearly 30 years ago when Ray Barnett, a Canadian human-rights activist, visited Uganda and found children suffering during civil war. During the turmoil, a little boy was picked up on the side of the road. As Barnett's group moved on, the boy began to sing. Barnett said the boy “proceeded to light up their journey with his beautiful singing.”
One child singing inspired him to leverage the power of music to help them by starting the African Children's Choir. Since then, Music for Life has educated over 52,000 children and impacted the lives of over 100,000 people through its relief and development programs during its history.
All members didn't come from such extreme circumstances, but they are still no strangers to the hardships of poverty in Africa.
Ronald Onyango grew up in Kenya. His father was a mechanical engineer and owned a small shop, but when he passed away when Onyango was a boy, his mother couldn't afford school anymore. After getting involved in African Children's Choir, he is now on track to go to the top university in Uganda to study telecommunications and IT.
No matter their background, all the choir members said the experience changed their lives. Now, in addition to traveling and schooling, the Young Africans just want to do one thing - share their culture with others through song and dance.