The Daraja Children’s Choir of Africa performed at the Oak Grove Church in Port St. Joe last week, and shared their brand of worship with the congregation through song and dance.
The group is made up of 12 girls and 12 boys ages 10-13 from Kaihura, Uganda. Their show is a 60-minute spectacle of Ugandan and traditional English songs and videos of their lives in Africa.
The Daraja choir is sponsored by The 410 Bridge mission group, which provides community-initiated development in Kenya, Uganda and Haiti. It serves in 26 communities and impacts over 300,000 people with clean water, education and economic development.
The group’s three-month southeastern tour is being led by 410 members Rob and Elisa Allred of Atlanta. The couple was on tour with another children’s choir when they experienced another group of Daraja students performing at a church in 2011 and knew they wanted to be a part of it.
“We loved 410’s model and the way that they invest in communities,” said Elisa. “They work alongside the community instead of doing it for them.”
In each town they visit, the Allreds find host families for the 24 children and 14 adults that make up the tour group. (See Letter to the Editor Page A5) The Ugandan children spend time with their host families doing activities, eating and immersing each other in their foreign cultures.
“It’s an incredible culture exchange on both sides,” said Rob. “Some of the kids who were quiet at the start are now the most outgoing.”
“It’s exciting and encouraging seeing how they’ve blossomed,” added Elisa.
Part of 410’s mission is to have the children return to Uganda disciplined, developed and educated. Three teachers from Africa accompany the group hosting school lessons during the day.
Daraja means “bridge” in Scandinavian and the mission group sees the choir as a way of building a connection between two very different countries.
“It’s an opportunity to have their hearts opened up to life outside of their own culture,” said Elisa. “We’re all stuck in our own small worlds.”
The goal of the choir is to show others children who are completely happy and free despite the situations and conditions found within their country.
Rob said, “So often we have an idea that you need so much to be happy. These kids are proof you don’t need a flat screen TV and an Escalade.”
The choir is made up of children from the communities that the 410 Bridge sponsors throughout Uganda.
The choir director, Abu, has been a part of the program since it began in 2006. He also becomes a father figure to the children, helping to develop and mentor in order to turn them into leaders so they’ll prosper when they return home. Abu holds auditions within the communities and finds the kids who will make the best additions to the choir or who will grow from the experience.
Rob said, “Abu has such a gift for finding kids with the spark.”
Daraja had performed the week prior at First Baptist Church in Port St. Joe.
Word quickly got back to Oak Grove Pastor James Wiley.
Having spent time in Uganda with his children, who are missionaries, he built a strong connection with the country and was happy to host the group at the church. It also helped the Allreds fill an empty date in their schedule.
“I have experienced the pure passion and joy in Uganda and worship is universal.” said Wiley.
The 24 choir members arrived in the U.S. May 12 and started their tour in Atlanta. Prior to hitting the road the children spent six weeks getting a “crash course” on life in the United States which was turned into a fun learning experience. Because it was their first visit to North America, a highlight for Rob and Elisa was watching the kids experience various “firsts.”
“They saw elevators for the first time and were amazed by a room that moved. These are things that we don’t even think about,” said Elisa.
“One child was enthralled by the highway system. He talked about how he could bring that back to Uganda,” said Rob. “He was amazed by the organization of it and now he wants to be an engineer.”
On July 31 the group will return to Uganda for two months before returning to the U.S. in September for a tour that will cover the east coast and Texas.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” said Elisa. “Each day offers something new and I feel like I have the best job in the world.”
“The kids leave such an impact and we’re blessed to be part of it,” said Rob.
For more information on the Daraja Children’s Choir of Africa, visit www.darajachoir.org.