Sam, a child of Uganda, motherless, fatherless, once slept in a mud hut with a leaky straw roof. His only food for months was the bananas his grandmother cooked for him and his two sisters.
But Sam, 16, knows the sound of joy - it is in the music he made with the African Children's Choir. The 24-voice choir will perform a concert of hope and healing at three Augusta-area churches this week.
The children, who performed at the site of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, will sing at 11 a.m. Sunday at Fleming Baptist Church, 3027 Peach Orchard Road, at 6 p.m. Sunday at New Hope Worship Center, 715 South Old Belair Road in Grovetown, and at 7 p.m. Wednesday at First Family Church of Augusta, 400 Warren Road.
"It's sometimes difficult to imagine the adversity these 24 children have known all of their young lives," said choir spokesman David Lloyd Austin from his office in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. He works for Music for Life, the former Friends of the West, the choir sponsor.
Since the choir's first North American tour in 1984, its appearances have raised awareness and financial support for homeless African children in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda, which is the home country of the singers coming to Augusta.
Many of the 6,000 children supported by Music for Life have seen famine, war and disease. Like Sam, they are children of single parents or are orphaned. In some cases, their parents were martyrized for their Christian faith.
Through donations, Music for Life provides schooling and meets the children's basic needs. "No child is ever refused. If they come to the school, we will accept them," he said.
The singers, age 6 to 12, tour for one year, then return to their home country to continue school - Sam, now 16, returned to Kampala to study. He hopes to become a pilot. Some children have gone to college and are now professionals - doctors, engineers, lawyers, pastors and teachers.
The choir was up for a Grammy Award in 1993 for best gospel choir. Its concerts pull from gospel and spiritual traditions, children's songs and contemporary music.
The group has appeared on television and radio programs including Good Morning America and Focus on the Family.
Mr. Austin will go to the United Kingdom in a few weeks where The Prince of Africa, a musical that features the children's chorus, will premiere before it tours North America in 2003. At the Music for Life schools, "the children are called 'princes' or 'princesses,"' he said.
For more information, see the African Children's Choir Web site, www.africanchildrenschoir.com.
IF YOU GO
WHO: African Children's Choir
WHAT: Hope and Healing Concert
WHERE: Fleming Baptist Church, 3027 Peach Orchard Road
WHEN: 11 a.m. Sunday
WHERE: New Hope Worship Center, 715 South Old Belair Road, Grovetown
WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: First Family Church of Augusta, 400 Warren Road
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.