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Making beautiful music together

"Making beautiful music together" Continued...

Issue: "Libyan exodus," March 26, 2011

"All these kids and there was no help coming," she told me. She realized, "It's not the money that's going to help these kids. It's my time."

There's Lydia, 7, whose mother died of AIDS. Her father has AIDS but doesn't want Lydia to see him in his current state, so she lives at the pastor's house. (Everyone still calls it "the pastor's house.") Lydia's younger sister was born with AIDS and died last year.

There's Grace, 11, whose mother has AIDS and is being treated in an international hospital. Her father, when he discovered he had AIDS, disappeared. Grace, according to her director, is a talented musician. "It's in her to write songs," Daniel said.

When the orphans practice behind the pastor's house, under eucalyptus trees, Nasanga keeps everyone, no matter the level of musical talent, together. The kids have to work together to bring along the one who is off-pitch or quiet. "She gets the kids I never thought could sing," Daniel said. Nasanga writes many of the songs for them. She teaches the children what the words mean, and how they tell about God. The choir's name is Mwamba, which means "rock" in Swahili.

At a church in Maryland in December, the choir performed to an audience of mostly Africans living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The concert started casually, about 45 minutes late, and became more of a worship service that extended beyond three hours, with messages from African pastors there and, of course, lots of singing. The 14 children, raised on the equator, doffed their puffy jackets and donned vivid Ugandan garb, showing initial shivers. But they warmed quickly, belting out their parts and dancing with energy that would outdo schoolchildren at recess. Grace, with her tiny, clear voice, sang a solo while she danced with the choir, "Lord you heard my call and my cry for help, and you answered me and you saved me. I am under the rock that's higher than me."

The children, ages 7 to 12, wrapped up their second tour in the United States in March while the others remained at home and went to school. They have recorded three albums already. With money from the choir's first tour, in Europe, the family bought six acres of land to build a Christian school and dug a well. The family hopes to gather enough money to raise the school building by the end of this year. The Lwakatales are teaching the children skills to survive, too-they have grown maize and bananas on the land while they wait for the school to be built. Nasanga said the children become unreasonably excited whenever one of their crops comes up. But she said music is their "first love" because it's the "one thing they've succeeded in."

"A lot have seen their parents die," said Nasanga. "They don't get any therapy. The only therapy they get is music."

Daniel adds that the church is the change agent for the kids. One of his "family members" he is proud of is William Sekandi, an orphan who came to live with the family as a young teenager. He is now in university in India, and wants to be a pastor.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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