GREENFIELD — Two pounds of bacon. More than a dozen eggs. A carton of orange juice.
The Rev. Paul George was a bit surprised by all the four little boys ate for breakfast Monday morning. No doubt, they started their day with full bellies, and hopefully, full hearts, he said.
Eighteen Ugandan children from the African Children’s Choir are staying with the Georges and six other local families this week, sharing meals, stories and laughs.
The families from Calvary Baptist Church opened their homes for the choir as part of the group’s Midwest tour; following a performance at the church Sunday after the group’s arrival, anxious parents met up with their students, who range in age from 7 to 10.
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The nonprofit performance group, founded by human rights activist Ray Barnett in 1984, provides impoverished children a chance to travel the globe, telling their stories through song and dance, while receiving an education they might not otherwise have been able to afford. Their performances include traditional African spirituals as well as modern hymns in English.
The children build relationships with their hosts, staying with families who open their homes, while teaching those they visit about their culture.
This week marked the second time the Greenfield church has hosted the African Children’s Choir after first welcoming members some 15 years ago, George said.
The choir, which has served some 1,000 members since its inception, welcomes disadvantaged children from across the continent; many have lost either one or both parents to war, famine or disease, said choir manager Tina Sipp.
Participating in the choir gives kids the opportunity to receive a better education and to travel the world, with a tour through the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, Sipp said. The concerts are always free; those who attended are asked to give donations as they feel moved.
Through those contributions, the organization helps pay for each participant’s education through secondary school — including classes through a college or trade school, if the student chooses — Sipp said, opening doors for them to lead better lives.
Prior to joining the program, many of the children either didn’t attend school or went sporadically because of the financial or travel barriers their families faced, Sipp said. Providing the children with a complete education will allow them to help support their families and lead their countries, she said.
For 9-year-old Winifred Nameooze, the choir has given her a chance to visit places she’d never see otherwise. New York has been her favorite so far, she said.
She enjoys singing and loves to learn, she said, and the African Children’s Choir gives her the opportunity to pursue both.
Every concert, the children tell event-goers what they want to be when they grow up: A bank manager, a pilot, a teacher.
Hosting the children is an investment in those plans for the future, said George, who serves as the church’s associate pastor.
It wasn’t a hard sell to get the congregation on board to host the choir, George said; it was just as easy to find six families willing to open their homes.
Church members did, however, have a few questions that pop up naturally when hosting friends from a different culture: Do the children speak English? What do they like to eat?
Monday morning, the Georges were already planning their menu; their four charges, they learned, were big fans of lasagna. If they had their way, there’d be a side of bacon, too.
The choir mostly performs at churches, with church leaders securing lodging and food for the members, as well as a place for them to rehearse and study.
Along the way, community members try to help fill other needs, too, said the Rev. Roger Kinion.
The choir typically has requests: someone might need to see a doctor, the children need new clothing.
This week, Potter Family Eye Care in McCordsville is providing free eye exams to choir members who need them; Dr. Georgia Knotek of Greenfield will provide dental checkups and teeth cleanings.
Local parents and their African students each leave the experience with positive stories to share.
The children gain friendships at every stop on their tour. And their hosts know they’ve helped educate a future generation of leaders.
“It’s a great time,” George said. “We just smile the whole time.”