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I Mother Africa PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 March 2009 13:52

Contagious excitement surged through the classrooms of Alexander Ferguson School on the morning of February 3rd. Laughter echoed through the hallways, broad smiles were on every face and if you listened closely, you could hear the faint sounds of an African choir practicing for a very special performance.

It was the beginning of what was to be a fun-filled, interactive day where the elementary students learned about the music, culture and issues that surround Africa.

The event, aptly named Africa Day, started off with free presentations from

Uganda's energetic Watoto Children's Choir share their inspiring songs with staff and students at Alexander Ferguson School during the final moments of Africa Day. photos by Kevin Rushworth/ Calgary Journal

volunteers with UNICEF, the Canadian Red Cross and the Canadian Hunger Foundation. James Nguen, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan and Lauren Forrest, who spent a year in Zambia volunteering, were two of the speakers. The festivities were then capped off with a lively performance from Uganda’s world-famous Watoto Children’s Choir. The choir agreed to a free performance if their CDs and crafts were sold afterwards.

Dan Dornan, the organizer of Africa Day and the assistant principal of Alexander Ferguson School spoke about the issues that his students were learning. Dornan said:

“It is important that the children develop an awareness of the world. In the media, Africa is depicted as being full of despair and I wanted to show the students examples of joy, life and hope and also exciting important work that is happening on the continent.”

One of these individuals who shared his story of hope was James Nguen.

Forced out of his village by militia warfare at the age of seven, Nguen was forced to walk for a month and to eat leaves and drink his own urine. While walking, Nguen met up with many children who had their families and lives ripped from them. Twenty six thousand boys and a few girls were soon on the move, marching from camp to camp. Militia, wild animals, starvation and disease constantly threatened them. In a refugee camp, Nguen shared a single spoon with many other children to “ensure that each person got a little bit of food.”

In the year 2001, he came to Canada as a refugee. Nguen took time off to come to Alexander Ferguson School to explain his sad but uplifting story to the children. A message that he wanted the students to understand was:

“If you remain resilient, there is nothing that you can’t go through.”

Dornan said that many of the older students said that it was a powerful experience to meet Nguen after they watched a documentary about the Lost Boys the day before. Alexander Ferguson School paid for Nguen to speak at the event.

After the choir performed, the Watoto singers ate pizza with the students, who were the same age as them. Dornan said that it is one thing to enjoy a performance on stage but personal connections are forged when interaction begins. Dornan explained that one girl in the choir wanted an escort out to the bus and the girl who she picked was just beaming as she walked with her new friend.

Dornan said: “They (the choir) were only there for 30 minutes but they were already making friends.”

He said that the kids were impressed and inspired by the choir's enthusiasm. Dornan said that after he asked different classes, one of the students said:

“Those kids had such difficult lives, but they seemed so joyful.” Another student was amazed at the dancing and said, “I would like to be able to move like that.”

The children who sing in the Watoto choir are AIDS orphans. Unlike many thousands of children, they have been helped by a Christian organization called Watoto Childcare Ministries.

Choir members John Waakisa, Mercy Nalukenge and Jimmy Wajja taught students and staff about their homeland Uganda

Two young members of the Watoto choir, Jimmy Wajja and John Waakisa described their trip to Canada, their country of Uganda and the new things they were learning while traveling to different places.

Both Wajja, nine, and Waakisa, 11, enjoyed their first sight of snow and said that, “it is cold but it is fun.”

They explained about their homeland, Uganda and how they enjoy eating matooke, which is steamed banana mash.

Both were very excited about the pizza lunch that followed their concert. Wajja and Waakisa said that when they make new friends, they explain about themselves. Some of the children also get a rare chance to meet their foster families.

Nine-year-old Wajja said that when his friends get to meet their foster families, he said: “It makes me feel happy.”

In Monika Wenzel-Curtis’ grade one and two class, Adwoa Savage, a local volunteer with UNICEF, led the class in a simple but powerful presentation about the lack of water in many parts of Africa.

Savage, who is originally from Ghana, West Africa explained to the young students that many children in her country have to walk many kilometers in order to retrieve water from a well. She then showed the children how to carry jugs of water on their shoulders and heads and she watched as the students meandered wobbly through the classroom.

Broad smiles broke out onto the students’ faces as Savage finished her discussion with an African song and dance, which she taught the children.

Savage explained that the water jug activity puts the young students in the shoes of African children so that they will understand what some youngsters have to do everyday of their lives.

Monika Wenzel-Curtis said that her students need to understand how truly lucky they are to live in Canada. She said that it is necessary for the children to understand that people from around the world can be brought together by the power of art and music.