By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
INGRAM – Tuesday night, in a small room above the sanctuary of Ingram Baptist Church, the 22 members of the Ugandan Thunder children’s choir were led in prayer by one of their leaders, Moses Kaweesa, before taking the stage with song.
It was a prayer that could move mountains.
Far from their home, the Royal School and Orphanage in Uganda, Africa, they danced and walked the aisles on their hands, bright smiles never leaving their faces during the two-hour performance. They sang songs with messages of redemption, rescue and peace through Christ.
“The thing about Ugandan children is that they don’t know how to give less than their best. What you see isn’t an act. They are genuinely happy,” said Ted Moody, founder of Pennies for Posho, a Georgia-based non-profit that assists the Royal School and Orphanage.
Ugandan Thunder is composed of children between the ages of 10 and 14. Each year the choir is made up of a completely new group of children, and this tour marks Ugandan Thunder’s seventh 11-month tour in eight years.
Son of the original founder of the orphanage, Kaweesa said the group of children changes each year to give as many kids as possible the opportunity to see America.
“They get to see things they have only read about,” he said. “Their English becomes much more clear as well. They speak it in Uganda, but their accent diminishes in their time here.”
Over the course of the 11-month tour across 23 states, group members Rebecca, Katherine and Assumpta said they get a fairly wide survey of American life. They noticed that America is much more developed in its roads and buildings, and is not as hot as Uganda, which is much closer to the equator.
The children’s favorite things seem to be the most simple pleasures, but ones that are unavailable to them in Africa.
“I love to swim and ride a bicycle. I don’t have a bicycle at home,” Katherine said.
According to Jenessa Ford, intern at Pennies for Posho, American sweets have been a big hit with the kids, everything from peppermints to chewing gum to donuts.
“The first time we were in a Krispy Kreme and they saw the donuts going under the sugar glaze, they kept saying ‘what’s that? what’s that?’ and one of them piped up and said, ‘vitamins,’” Ford said. “It’s really a testament to the fact that happiness is not what you have, but knowing whose you are.”
Though it may be fun, the tour is hard work. The choir has a roster of almost 40 songs, each with its own choreography. However, Kaweesa said the group always rises to the occasion because they are doing it for their friends at home.
“Usually if morale is not high, the prayer before the performance psyches them up,” he said. “They performed four times today, for schools, so I thought they would be tired, but they are excited do it again.”
Kaweesa said traveling with the group keeps his focus on the direction of Royal Orphanage.
“Every day I meet someone new here with new ideas,” he said. “Right now we are trying to form our own high school.”
Currenty, Royal Orphanage sees its children through the seventh grade, at which point students take a test that decides if they will be admitted to high school. Those who do not pass the test become maids or “diggers,” working the land and eeking out a living with meager crops.
“With our own high school, we can give these kids a second chance, and if we keep them with us they won’t lose the values we have instilled in them over all these years,” Kaweesa said.
Though they live across the world, the kids’ ambitions sound similar to those one might hear from an American child.
“I want to be a doctor,” said Rebecca, who will attend high school next year.
Katherine said she wants to work with the environment. “The people, the land, the animals, they all affect each other,” she said.
Kaweesa said he hopes the high school will be within reach by next year. The next big item on his list is providing the children with adequate nutrition.
“We have enough chickens so they can have eggs twice a week, and we are trying to invest in more diverse farming in beans and fruit,” he said.
Pennies for Posho
Moody, known affectionately by the children as “Big Daddy,” became involved with the Royal Orphanage and School in 2007 after visiting the orphanage on a mission trip.
“The first time I saw Royal Orphanage, there were 700 kids on one acre. You think that’s impossible but not when you have bunk beds stacked four high with three kids in each bed,” Moody said.
At the time, Moody pastored a Baptist church in Georgia, and upon his return, he began asking churches for offerings to feed the children of the orphanage. This ministry grew to become Pennies for Posho, “posho” being the ground cornmeal that constitutes the childrens’ daily meal.
“Their favorite American meal is Chick-fil-A, because at home they only get chicken twice a year, at Christmas and Easter,” Moody said.
Since Moody started Pennies for Posho, Royal Orphanage and School has expanded to include 11 orphanages across the country, serving 5,000 children. The proceeds from Ugandan Thunder’s tour go to providing food, clothing, medication and school fees. Moody said Uganda has been ravaged by malaria and the AIDS virus, giving the country one of the highest concentrations of orphans in the world.
“It’s a nation of babies raising babies. Half of the total population is age 15 or younger,” Moody said. “Elders who do survive are left raising dozens of children.”
Moody said his organization is driven by scripture, James 1:27, which instructs Christians to “take care of orphans … in their distress.”
“There are no strangers,” he said. “There are no orphans of God.”