Bishop Moses Ssemanda smiled and issued a declaration prior to the Imani Milele Children’s Choir’s performance Tuesday night at Guyton Christian Church.
“Oh my, tonight this place is going to shake,” said Ssemanda, the founder of Imani Milele Children, a Uganda-based non-profit organization to help orphaned and at-risk children in East Africa.
“With the power,” added Ssemanda’s wife, Hopkins.
As promised, the choir brought down the house. The 23-member group, with singers ranging from 9 to 22 years old, performed a mix of traditional and contemporary songs and African songs and dances.
“This building has shaken. I’m sure your hearts and souls have, too,” Guyton Christian Church Pastor David Grandgeorge said following the performance.
The Imani Milele Children’s Choir will perform twice more in Effingham County, on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Grace Community Church of Rincon and Monday at 7 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church of Rincon.
The choir performed in Effingham last year as part of a nearly 10-month tour of the United States. Ssemanda said they made a point of returning to this area on their current concert trek, which began June 4.
“We had a wonderful, wonderful time” in Effingham last year, he said. “Every place where we were well-received, we are going back.”
The choir is performing throughout the U.S. “as God opens up venues and housing,” Ssemanda said. The children and their adult chaperones stay with host families or at churches at each stop.
“You can get venues, but if there is no housing, then we miss that venue,” Ssemanda explained. “Housing and venues, they go hand-in-hand.”
Ssemanda began Imani Milele — which translates to “believe forever” — in 1989 with only three children. The organization has grown to serve 3,000 children now, he said.
The program operates eight schools, educating orphaned and at-risk children until they finish college. The teaching of Christian values also is part of the program.
“We want to make sure that children are self-supporting when they’re out of the program,” Ssemanda said. “That’s why we emphasize so much getting a good, quality education, because that is the key that is going to make a difference in a child’s life, in his family and in our country.”
The choir’s performances promote awareness of the program. Imani Milele offers sponsorships, ranging from $18 to $98 per month, to help the children it serves.
“Whatever comes in makes a difference,’” Ssemanda said.
Along with the choir’s songs and dances, some of the children told the audience how being taken in by Imani Milele changed their lives.
Sandra Ajwang, 12, described the “suffering and much pain” she endured from infections in her leg bones. Ajwang’s father had abandoned the family, and her mother had very little money for medical care.
“The doctors used to ignore me because we did not have enough money for the treatment for the disease,” she said.
Imani Milele began caring for Ajwang and helped her receive the treatment she needed. As she sang and danced around Guyton Christian Church, Ajwang showed no signs of the osteomyelitis that once plagued her.
“Now I can sing and dance without worrying about my legs,” she said.
Rodah Tushabilane, 16, explained that “life was so hard” because of her father’s alcoholism and abuse. Tushabilane said her father would become violent toward his wife and six children.
“My father used to drink a lot and come home and beat everyone,” Tushabilane said. “We were always scared around him.”
Life became even more difficult, she said, after her father was murdered following a night of drinking in 2008. Money became scarce for the family.
“We stopped going to school, and food was no more,” Tushabilane said. “My siblings and I started to run around in the village looking for something to eat. Our neighbors would chase us away.”
Then, one day, everything changed. Ssemanda visited the village, looking for at-risk children to care for through Imani Milele.
“When he looked at me, his heart reached out for me,” Tushabilane said. “He took me into Imani, where I’ve been cared for since then.”
Tushabilane wants to pass on the lessons she has learned. She is studying to become a pharmacist so she can help care for others.
Though the choir’s concert at times had language barriers between the performers and the audience, it’s didn’t matter. The lively singing and dancing spoke for itself, as did the universal sign Tushabilane beamed as she explained the difference Imani Milele has made in her life.
“I now have a smile on my face,” she said.
Imani Milele Children’s Choir
Effingham County performances
• When: Sunday, 6:30 p.m.
• Where: Grace Community Church
• When: Monday, 7 p.m.
• Where: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
For more information about the children’s choir, visit www.imanimilele.com.