According to the Uganda Children’s Charity Foundation,
more than 1.7 million children have lost at least one parent to
AIDS in Uganda. The epidemic kills more than 300 people every day
in Uganda alone. Though the country is a step ahead of most
sub-Saharan African countries, being the first to implement
policies and programs to combat HIV and AIDS, life expectancy has
fallen to just 42 years.
According to UCCF, 30 percent of Uganda’s population was
diagnosed with HIV in 1993. In 2002, however, the rate dropped to 5
percent. Unfortunately, this number results as much from the
campaign to curb new infections as it does from the high mortality
rate of HIV/AIDS in East African countries. To provide support for
Ugandan children orphaned by the outbreak, the UCCF has put
together a unique production of East African song and dance.
In the “Tour of Light,” showing at the Power Center
this weekend, 20 native Ugandans, aged 8 to 18, dance, sing and
play a variety of handmade instruments from Uganda and other East
African nations. The children are chosen from an orphanage where
they were trained to dance as a way to keep their heritage and
culture alive. The disastrous effect AIDS and HIV have had on the
adult population threatens to rob future generations of important
values and customs that are only recorded through dance and song.
Though performed primarily for entertainment, singing and dancing
are traditional ways to pass stories on to new generations.
The performance will highlight each of Uganda’s 52 ethnic
groups with specific dance and music reflecting history and culture
from East Africa. “(The children) help bridge the gap between
America and Africa,” Alexis Hefley, the UCCF executive
director and president, commented.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing if I
didn’t think they could change the world,” she added.
UCCF provides enormous opportunity for the disadvantaged children
it serves. Through its community outreach program, it educates kids
who live with widowed HIV positive women who are caring for five or
more children. The organization has a goal to raise $1 million this
year for its programs. Hefley said that when she first got involved
with the UCCF she knew that “if friends in America could see
these children perform, they would get involved.”
The UCCF is a registered nongovernment organization that
provides orphans with food, clothing, education and shelter. The
program even funds the education of seven children in America.
Through the “Tour of Light,” children themselves raise
money for continued support. They dance and sing in order to
increase awareness and aid. Alexis Hefley said that they
“bring attention to the devastating effect that AIDS
UCCF reports that Uganda has the highest proportion of AIDS
orphans in the world. The organization strives to make the
situation in Uganda better for all of the children. It is through
the power of traditional song and dance that Hefley believes the
children convey “a message of hope.” She described the
children on tour as being bright and cheerful despite the hardships
they face. She added that they “have a lot of talent and
enjoy what they are doing.”