EAST HARTFORD – Watching him sing and dance his way across the stage, you’d never know he’s from war-torn Uganda. You’d never know his mom and dad are dead, and you’d never know he’s separated from his siblings.
When Joel Opio, 15, is beating the djembe drums, glee emanates from him like strong cologne.
At a concert Wednesday evening at Crossroads Community Cathedral, he shared his message of hope with a packed sanctuary, through African song and dance.
He came to the children’s center when it opened in 2005. The center, which was founded by a Christian pastor, provides shelter, food and education to Ugandan orphans. Joel said before he came to the center, he couldn’t find food for himself or for his brothers and sisters.
“I came to Kampala and I get a meal everyday, I’m getting a good education, going to a good school and now I have hope,” he said. “I feel that God saved me and made my talents to grow.”
He wants to be an aerospace engineer one day, but for now, he’s traveling throughout New England for the choir’s first-ever U.S. tour.
The performances, which continue throughout the area until early November, are designed to make people aware of the children’s centre, said Team Leader Ruth Belcher. She’s worked with the children since the program began and said she’s seen them transform into optimistic individuals.
“I see them smile and now their eyes tell a story of hope. It’s amazing to be a part of their lives,” she said. “They have such dreams and ambitions.”
David Ahimbisibwe, 17, said he hopes the performances bring encouragement to the downtrodden. He said most people are struggling with one thing or another, causing frustration, and hopes the concerts help people overcome their tribulations.
“I want Destiny Africa to encourage people not to lose hope. If you put your trust in God, he can do anything for you,” he said.
On their 31-city tour, the 17 singers, ranging from 9 to 18 years old, have been able to see Mystic Aquarium, the ocean, go horseback riding and participate in other fun activities.
Joellen Putnam, team manager, said the choir has been well received by New England. She added that some people even follow the choir from venue-to-venue to listen to them.
Her church, Wellspring, has had a relationship with Kampala Children’s Centre for about four years and has hosted the group’s visit.
Putnam said the children are “living testimonies.”
“They’ve all been through such terrible childhoods, experiences most of us can’t even imagine,” she said. “We have so much we take for granted.”
The Destiny African Children’s Choir returns to Uganda on Nov. 11 and will perform their final concert here on Nov. 8 in Kensington and New Britain.
To help the center, or for more information, visit www.kampalachildren.com.
Oct. 22, Trinity Baptist, Fairfield
Oct. 24, Call to Care Uganda, Madison
Oct. 25, Grace Baptist Church, Bristol
Oct. 28, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Bristol
Oct. 29, Calvary Christian Center, New Britain
Oct. 30, First Church of Christ , Weathersfield
Oct. 31, Christ Church, Wolcott
Nov. 1, The Tabernacle, Southington
Nov. 8, Wellspring, Kensington
Nov. 8, South Church/Main Street Singers, New Britain