Photo courtesy of Huffington Post
By Kelsey Siegler
Sewanee students, faculty, and university guests gathered in Gailor Auditorium on March 1 to watch the Imba Means Sing, an independent documentary featuring the Grammy-nominated African Children’s Choir. Morgan Pruett (C’18) interned with filmmaker, activist, and humanitarian journalist Erin Bernhardt, who produced this film in March 2016 to raise awareness and money for her cause, as she believes in the powerful influence music has on others. Bernhardt served the Peace Corps in Madagascar and later left her dream job at CNN to work with the African Children’s Choir of Kampala, Uganda.
The choir’s performances provide support for war victims and educational opportunities for vulnerable families in seven countries, in addition to raising money for the members’ education. These children of several Ugandan homes ensure financial security, potential education for their siblings, a home, and food for their families. The film focused on Choir 39, which selected twenty children ages seven to fourteen. During their eighteen-month tour, Choir 39 brought Ugandan culture to America, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The African Children’s Choir has helped about 52,000 people over the past twenty-eight years, offering hope amidst extreme poverty and familial separation. Former choir director and Choir 12 member Uncle Anthony said, “Sponsors help these children finish their education so they can become doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc.” He and Aunt Aleni, another choir director, encourage the Ugandan children to smile, dance, and enjoy performing for a cause.
Outside Uganda, the children experienced culture shock in countries filled with activities like making s’mores, rollerskating, bowling, swimming, and visiting national landmarks. Nina, one of the children, celebrated her birthday for the first time in America. The children of Choir 39 were often holding hands, laughing, singing their hearts out, and full of life during their eighteen-month tour. The film illustrates their transition to a westernized world. Not only did the children receive the benefit of an education, but also learned the importance of confidence and hard work on stage. Another child named Moses learned humility and graciousness upon the the loss his drum solo resulting from his “big ego.” Moses realized that he was making a difference for himself and his family, which in turn made his parents proud.
The children returned to their Ugandan training academy after the tour, only visiting their homes a few times a year. The documentary’s proceed will go toward the construction of a Ugandan high school and the continuance of these children’s education. Imba Means Sing is a must-see documentary that left many audience members teary-eyed. Sponsors can support a non-choir child for thirty-five dollars a month and a choir child for two hundred dollars. Visit their website for more information and check out this film on Netflix.