Friday, November 21, 2003

African singers are just kids, too



By Brenna R. Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BURLINGTON - It was the ultimate sign of acceptance.

In the cafeteria of Stephens Elementary, a fifth-grade boy tapped 8-year-old Enoch Kiwannuka on the shoulder.

IF YOU GO
What: African Children's Choir.
Where: First Church of Christ, 6080 Camp Ernst Road in Burlington.
When: 7 p.m. today.
Cost: Free.
There also will be three performances in Lexington Sunday and Tuesday
Information: Web site
"Do you want to come sit with me," the student asked Enoch, one of 26 African children visiting the school Thursday.

The children, part of the African Children's Choir, spent the day with fifth-graders at the Boone County school so the kids could learn about each others' cultures.

The choir of children from Uganda tours the country singing traditional African, popular and gospel music to raise money to educate poor children in Africa. Tonight, they will perform at First Church of Christ in Burlington.

"They come from extreme poverty," said Sara Richardson, the group's tour leader. "Most of them have lost one parent, some have lost both."

In the children's homeland, the average life expectancy is 44 years. Five percent of adults in the country have AIDS. Thirty-five percent of the people live in poverty.

Despite their different backgrounds, the students and choir members became fast friends Thursday, even asking for each other's addresses to keep in touch.

"I think it is so important for children of different cultures to get together and talk and get to know each other," Stephens Principal Linda Klembara told the African children. "It bothers me that so many countries do not get along, and I've given up on the adults. I think the way to make this world a better place to live is that we bring the children together."

The African children learned an electric slide-style line dance from Stephens students. Then the students kicked up their legs to the beat of an African drum.

"It was kinda hard because you had to raise up your knees as high as you can and you had to lean back at the same time," said Asiel Langley, 10, after learning an African dance. "It was just really fun."

Instead of structured activities, the children were given free rein to play together in the gym. The students taught choir member Faruk Byaruhanga, 10, how to play basketball.

"It was good," Faruk said, "because we get to meet other people. They were nice to us."

Three girls taught choir member Joyce Mbabzi, 10, how to do a cheer.

On the gym stage, Enoch showed Kendra Higgins, 11, how beat the drums with her hands.

But she kept her hands too stiff so he told her "just to let it free flow," she said.

And they even found that they played some of the same games, like jump rope.

By lunchtime, the fifth-graders were begging the African children to sit at their table to eat the school lunch of turkey.

"They are a lot like us," said Emily Lobenstein, 10. "Just because they are from somewhere else, they aren't different. Inside of them they are just like us, they are funny, they like to laugh a lot and they play a lot of games that we do."

E-mail bkelly@enquirer.com




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