Brian is ten years old, and he wants to be a pilot. Esther is nine, and she wants to be a missionary. Both come from impoverished backgrounds in Uganda, and both have a good chance of reaching those goals.

Brian and Esther are members of the African Children's Choir, a group of 17 children that visited Ashland Christian Fellowship Sunday night, where they shared their dreams for the future with a packed crowd in between high-energy dancing and singing in English, Swahili and Luganda. Music for Life sends several of these choirs to tour the United States each year with a new class of impoverished children from Africa to spread hope and raise funds to support their classmates back home.

Despite losing one or both parents and growing up in poverty, the children staying in Ashland this week have a bright future. After one last concert in Eugene next week, the children will return to life in Uganda with a free education &

all the way through college &

waiting for them.

The choir's music director, Tumwesigye Henry, or Uncle Henry as the children call him, is a former choir member who returned to chaperone as an adult. He lost both of his parents at the age of four.

"In Uganda, it takes a whole village to raise a child," he told the audience. "In my case, the world is my village."

While on tour, the children perform four times a week &

in venues ranging from local churches to the set of American Idol &

attend school in church buildings during the day and stay with local host families at night, who serve as the village helping to raise the children.

Many choir alum have gone on to become teachers, doctors and lawyers.

"It's such a privilege and a blessing to be able to give back," said Vicki Plankenhorn, whose family volunteered to host two of the children. "Their gift to us through their music is almost more than what we can give back."



Although the students are on a tight schedule and have an early bedtime, Plankenhorn said she hoped to cook some fun meals with them and learn about Uganda before they leave Ashland on Wednesday morning.

The choir stays with host families to reduce overhead costs so more funds can go to educating African children, but members of the choir recalled fond memories of past host families.

"They love us so much and cook for us," said Esther Nakayiza, whose favorite food is fried chicken. She expressed love for her host family that had a bearded dragon for a pet.

Joseph Musasizi, who loves hamburgers, said his most memorable host family taught him how to ride a horse.

"They give us things to play with and our favorite things to eat," he said.

Other Ashland families and children were planning to introduce their guests to their farm animals, share their trampoline, even teach the hula.

Lisa Walker and her family shared their Hawaiian culture, including the dancing, with the two girls they hosted five years ago, and are looking forward to doing the same with their two new houseguests.

"As soon as we heard we could (host more children), we were so excited," she said. "They're a joy to have in our home."



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Interviews with concertgoers by Thom Larkin | Daily Tidings