Changed lives

[cleeng_content id="962496573" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]‘Children of Uganda’ headed to Shepherdstown

Pamela Brannon sees all kind of good come from the Children of Uganda, the Charles Town-based nonprofit where she’s executive director. While Children of Uganda’s central mission is to give hundreds of orphans and other vulnerable children in Uganda day-to-day help with housing, schooling, food, clothing and other basics as well as the long-term tools they need to lead successful and productive lives, Brannon says the organization is helping in other ways, too.

Two dozen young Ugandans skilled in music, drum and dance will perform in cities across the United States next month. The first stop for the Children of Uganda’s 2014 Tour of Light? A Jan. 15 performance at Shepherd University.

Two dozen young Ugandans skilled in music, drum and dance will perform in cities across the United States next month. The first stop for the Children of Uganda’s 2014 Tour of Light? A Jan. 15 performance at Shepherd University.

“It’s changed so many lives outside of Uganda – including my own,” said Brannon, who grew up in the area and graduated from Jefferson High School before relocating to Los Angeles, where she first became involved with Children of Uganda in 2000.

“So many people, after they see these children perform, they’re absolutely changed. It’s amazing.” The group will kick off its nationwide 2014 Tour of Light with a Jan. 15 performance at Shepherd University’s Frank Center.

Brannon, who moved back to Charles Town in 2008, said audience members feel a connection to the two dozen members of Children of Uganda after watching the music, drum and dance troupe work their magic on stage.

Their talent and energy are part of the draw, she said, but there’s something more, too. “A lot of times, I’ll get asked how these young people have it in them to travel to the United States and get up in front of strangers and perform so fearlessly.”

Brannon’s answer is that the children who are part of the troupe have spent all or most of their young lives dealing with a level of pain and uncertainty most Americans can’t comprehend.

“When you’ve gone through the worst thing a child can go through – losing one or often both parents – you have to develop a level of courage and faith just to go on living. I think that’s what fills these children with such joy and life.”

Children of Uganda began in 1995 in response to the crisis of HIV/AIDS in Uganda, the East African nation where nearly 40 percent of residents survive on less than $1.25 a day.

Children of Uganda began in 1995 in response to the crisis of HIV/AIDS in Uganda, the East African nation where nearly 40 percent of residents survive on less than $1.25 a day.

The organization was begun in 1995 in response to the crisis of HIV/AIDS in Uganda, the East African nation where nearly 40 percent of residents survive on less than $1.25 a day.

Today, it’s estimated that more than 2 million Ugandan children have lost a parent or both parents to HIV or AIDS. Extreme poverty and decade after decade of civil unrest make life even harder for the nation’s youth.

To provide for the young people left behind by the HIV epidemic, Children of Uganda relies on donations, child sponsors and the performance tour of the United States every other year.

The tour not only raises the organization’s profile but also gives young performers the chance to experience something new and exciting. “These children have never been been on an airplane, never been outside of Uganda,” she said. “They’re so excited to have this opportunity.”

Next week, Brannon heads back to Uganda to meet up with the troupe and then accompany the young people to Jefferson County, where they’ll perform in Shepherdstown and at least two local schools (Jefferson High and Wright Denny Intermediate) before moving on to shows in cities including D.C., New York City, Chicago, San Antonio, Denver and Los Angeles before wrapping up the tour this spring in San Francisco.

The organization has had its headquarters in Charles Town since 2008, Brannon said, in part because of the lower cost of doing business here. “Our donors want us to stretch every cent as far as we possibly can,” she said. “To be able to spend less on overhead and administrative costs just made a lot of sense.”

Charles Town’s proximity to Washington still makes it easy for board members, most of whom are based in the D.C. area, to gather for board meetings and other business, she said.

Brannon said she’s looking forward to the long hours on the charter bus with the children – because the travel time gives them all a chance for in-depth conversations.

“It’s wonderful, getting to engage these young people,” she said. “It makes me realize again how this work matters. I know absolutely that this is my calling.”

During the 2012 tour, Brannon remembers chatting with a young girl who explained why she was happy to come to the United States. It was a chance, the child explained, for her to give back to the organization that had for years ensured she had shelter, food and an education.

“She told me when she was younger she had watched her older brothers and sisters perform on tour and make a difference in her life and now she had that chance.”

Brannon also is eager to watch the children on stage again – and to watch audience members’ response. The troupe’s songs, even the numbers they perform in Swahili and other native languages, speak to audiences in a unique way, she said.

“These children know so much about giving, service, love, sacrifice,” she said. “To describe this work as deeply satisfying is a huge, huge understatement. When you see these children in person, you start to understand.”

 

Want to go?
What: Children of Uganda music, drum and dance performance When: 8 p.m. Jan. 15
Where: Frank Theater a Shepherd University
For tickets and other information: Go to Childrenofuganda.org
What else: The group also plans to perform at Jefferson High and at Wright Denny Intermediate schools[/cleeng_content]

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