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Visiting Ugandan choir helps Woodland’s students learn about the challenges facing children in third-world countries

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Woodland High School students and staff learned about Ugandan culture and the challenges facing the students and people of Africa during a school visit by the I Am Family African Choir on Wednesday, October 18, 2017. The visit culminated in a concert performance by the traveling musicians in front of the entire student body.

I Am Family, a nonprofit organization, performs concerts throughout the U.S. to raise awareness of the challenges facing Ugandan children
I Am Family, a nonprofit organization, performs concerts throughout the U.S. to raise awareness of the challenges facing Ugandan children 

Jim Darden, a Woodland community member and volunteer teacher for Woodland High School’s new Introduction to Computer Science course, arranged for the choir to visit the students after helping the choir with their previous tour to Woodland in 2011. “At that time, my family hosted some of the choir members in our home for several weeks and fell in love with them and their mission of helping needy families in Uganda by supporting orphans and vulnerable children with education, food, clothing, and housing,” explained Darden, who has since become a board member for the nonprofit charity organization. “I love working with this charity because it’s small, and I get to see the first-hand impact of the work we’re doing with very little overhead and every dollar taken in getting used efficiently toward the organization’s mission.”

I Am Family performed for the staff and students of Woodland High School on Wednesday, October 18
I Am Family performed for the staff and students of Woodland High School on Wednesday, October 18 

During their concert at Woodland High School, the young musicians, ranging in age from 13 to 16 years old, performed songs and dances from some of the more than 50 tribes and cultures in Uganda. The choir started their performance by singing a special African-inspired rendition of the American National Anthem. The student performers played a variety of musical instruments including drums and tambourines, and performed nearly-acrobatic stunts like kicks, flips, and splits all while maintaining the songs’ rhythm. In between songs, one of the directors addressed the high school audience, and taught them about the organization’s mission and the purpose of the choir to help raise awareness of the challenges facing Ugandan children.

Over the course of eight months, the choir tours through Arizona, California and Washington with the young musicians performing two to four concerts a week while experiencing the variety of cultures in the United States. “Most of the children in the choir have never been to an ocean, seen snow, watched a movie in a movie theater, or even played in a swimming pool,” explained Darden. “Visiting the U.S. can be quite a culture shock for them, but they absolutely love our country.”

The young performers range in age from 13-16 years old and perform songs and dances from the more than 50 tribes living in Uganda
The young performers range in age from 13-16 years old and perform songs and dances from the more than 50 tribes living in Uganda 

In addition to raising awareness, the choir’s visits to the United States help raise sponsorship support for the performers’ families and other children back in Uganda. “There are no safety nets in Uganda with a government that can do very little to alleviate starvation or poverty, so we organize these concerts to have a huge impact by raising awareness and funds,” said Darden. “We see sponsorship and support as ways to help the next generation of Ugandans to have a chance at achieving their dreams.”

Organizing the choir’s visit from Uganda involves years of planning between organizing transportation and acquiring the necessary documentation for the visit. The lessons learned from simply planning the trip helped educate Woodland’s students about the complexities facing people living in third-world countries. “Some of the children on tour don’t know their own birthdates so we have to make a guess when they were born when we apply for birth certificates and visas,” explained Darden. “These are third-world problems that, thankfully, most of us are not used to thinking about.”

I Am Family choir members play drums, tambourines, and even perform acrobatic stunts while singing and dancing
I Am Family choir members play drums, tambourines, and even perform acrobatic stunts while singing and dancing

Darden sees a lot of similarities between the Woodland community and I Am Family. “Woodland is a relatively small town with a huge heart as community members here regularly work to help those in need,” he said. “I Am Family seeks to do the same sort of work by helping the Ugandan people and their community.”

Following the performance, choir members ran into the audience to introduce themselves, shake hands, give high-fives, and hug Woodland students
Following the performance, choir members ran into the audience to introduce themselves, shake hands, give high-fives, and hug Woodland students 

I Am Family is a holistic care program created as a response to the overwhelming number of orphaned children and vulnerable people in Uganda whose lives have been devastated by the Cholera outbreak and AIDS epidemic. Funds raised go toward providing the five basic needs of the children of Uganda: food, shelter, clothing, education, and parental love. To learn more about the organization and how you can provide support, visit the I Am Family website www.iamfamily.org or follow their Facebook page: www.fb.com/iamchildrensfamily.

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