RALEIGH — “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”
The words come from an age-old American gospel song, but the voices singing it belong to young children who’ve traveled more than 7,300 miles from their homes in Uganda.
The 38th African Children’s Choir, made up of 17 needy or orphaned children, stopped in Raleigh Sunday as part of the U.S. leg of their international tour.
The group lent their voices to King’s Park Raleigh church, its services held at Wiley International Magnet Elementary School.
The Triangle area and the church have special meaning for the choir: King’s Park bought a 6-acre property in Chatham County in 2007 that became their U.S. home base, called the Mirembe House.
The group, ages 8 to 10, performs four concerts a week and travels throughout Europe, the U.S. and Canada within a 12- to 18-month period.
While on tour, the choir is usually split up among host families, but not when they visit the Triangle. At Mirembe House, there are dorm rooms for the boys and girls, a practice room, kitchen, schoolroom and playground.
“My favorite room in the house is the devotion room,” said Maureen, 9. “Because of school and we read books.”
Her favorites are the Disney books, including Cinderella, which she just read.
Gaster, 8, said the best part of Mirembe House is the chance to be outside.
“We play baseball,” he said.
The nonprofit group Friends of Mirembe raises money and organizes volunteers to gather food, clothing and other items the children or their chaperones might need.
Tour leader Sarah Jordan said the choir has been to 27 states so far.
“After 11 months of that, it’s a huge blessing to have the house,” Jordan said. “The kids can rest and we have a chance to do some schooling. Education is a huge part of what we do.”
After touring, the children attend the African Children’s Choir Primary School, a boarding school in Entebbe, Uganda, until about the seventh grade. Then, the choir pays for secondary education all the way through college, Jordan said.
The children’s choir was founded in 1984, when human rights activist Ray Barnett was inspired to help the thousands of orphaned and poor children left behind during Uganda’s civil war.
Each year, a new group of children audition and are selected for the program, traveling all over the world performing for Queen Elizabeth at her Diamond Jubilee, at the White House and on American Idol. The children help to raise money for the school through sponsorships. This year’s choir will also be featured on the album of Christian recording artist Stephen Curtis Chapman.