Even in a central African country devastated by AIDS and poverty, children sing and dance.
A group of young performers from a small village in southern Uganda will be coming to the region next week to perform and to talk about their country.
The Chosen, three girls and two boys, will appear at schools, churches and other settings in Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and other places to raise American awareness during a five-day tour here.
Some of the children have lost a parent to the African AIDS epidemic, and some of the songs are about the impact of disease and the plight of poor children. Donations are accepted and child sponsorships sold.
“In order of priority, it’s about raising awareness, it’s about raising money and it’s about entertaining,” said Paul Phillips, of Malta, a field coordinator for Action for Empowerment Uganda, a Ugandan-led nonprofit organization that is sponsoring the visit.
It was formerly known as the AIDS Orphans Education Trust.
Uganda is a central African country of about 30 million people, where it is estimated nearly one million children have lost at least one parent to AIDS, which is widespread in central Africa. Until the recent introduction of government-provided anti-retroviral drugs, it was invariably fatal.
Phillips and his wife, Jean, lead teams of volunteers to the small village of Bugumbe at the northern edge of Lake Victoria every winter. There, they’ve helped build a school and otherwise supported AIDS orphans; donations or volunteers have come from Amsterdam Memorial Hospital, Ellis Hospital, and a number of retired medical professionals.
These will be the first performances of The Chosen in New York state, as they kick off a three-month tour of the United States.
The songs are in English, Swahili and Lugandan, the local tribal language, and the dancing is full of movement.
“I had a teenage girl next to me [at a California concert last year] who said it’s the best hip-hop she’d every seen. It’s very energetic,” Phillips said.
The five Ugandan students, ages 10-12, and two adult chaperones are due to arrive in New York City Jan. 10, and perform during the day at Greenwich Elementary School on Friday, Jan. 11. There will be a public performance at 7 p.m. that evening at the Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church.
Other performances scheduled are:
u At 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Albany Union Missionary Baptist Church;
u As part of the 10 a.m. service Sunday, Jan. 13, at Queensbury United Methodist Church;
u At 4 p.m. Sunday at the Greenwich United Church.
u Daytime performances at the Howe International School in Schenectady (tentatively) and at Harrison Street Elementary School in South Glens Falls on Monday, Jan. 14;
u And at 7 p.m. at the Prestwick Chase senior housing complex in Saratoga Springs.
The group members will be staying with the Phillipses on Saratoga Lake and with host families in Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa.
The performers all attend the Rehaboth Integrated School in Bugumbe, a modern school completed last year with volunteer aid.
The Phillipses were there when the school was dedicated last year and are now organizing what will be their sixth trip, planned for Feb. 21-March 10. They’ve assembled a team so far of nine people, from the Capital Region as well as other parts of the country, and plan to paint, work at medical clinics and visit some of the 400 Ugandan children the organization sponsors. But the Phillipses have learned to expect the unexpected.
“We make plans and send a list of skills we’re bringing, but we really don’t know what we’ll be doing. You’ve heard of management by crisis? There are multiple crises every day,” said Paul Phillips, a Saratoga native who is retired from a university financial aid job in California.
Most of the people in Bugumbe live in mud huts with no indoor plumbing or electricity; last year one Ugandan girl traveling with The Chosen was amazed by flush toilets.
“This is not poverty. This is extreme poverty,” said Jean Phillips, a retired nurse practitioner.
In addition to the school, Action for Empowerment runs a Widows Empowerment Program to teach jewelry-making, weaving and other marketable skills to women whose husbands have died, often from AIDS. Some of the jewelry is sold at shops in Saratoga and Ballston Spa.
AOET also runs a medical clinic offering basic medical care and HIV/AIDS counseling.
The volunteering is rewarding, “but it’s like a drop in the bucket,” Jean Phillips said.
Still, she added, “you never know how many lives you touch.”
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