They Got the Beat

Helped by a Dallas volunteer, Ugandan orphans drum up donations

The children's tour also raises awareness of the impact AIDS has had on African children. Hefley estimates that Uganda has about 2.4 million orphans in a country with only 27 million people.

Bernard, 18, and his two younger brothers were abandoned by their parents. He has no idea if they are alive or dead. Bernard is touring for the fifth and last time with the group; he'll enroll in college later this year to study music and dance. "I want to help other children know their culture, to know where they come from," he says. "We can have the sadness about the problems we have, but we can perform, and we do it with joy."

Deborah Nakiduu, director of the biggest orphanage supported by UCCF, has accompanied the children on this trip; 15 of the performers live in her orphanage or at nearby boarding schools. About 20 of her wards are HIV-positive. "We treat them, take them to hospital, get their drugs and drive them to clinics," Nakiduu says.

Alexis Hefley, center, gave up a career in banking to work with Ugandan orphans.
Mark Graham
Alexis Hefley, center, gave up a career in banking to work with Ugandan orphans.

She's seen lives changed because of the tour and the foundation started by Hefley. "It is fun doing something they love," Nakiduu says. "They're so poor, and they get on a plane and go to America. They forget all they've gone through."

Hefley, who doesn't have a husband or children, found not only a calling but a family. At one time, Hefley had eight students living with her, including Kasule, who attended the Arts Magnet High School. He took a semester off from college, where he is studying music technology, to serve as the tour's assistant artistic director.

"It's lucky we have this house in Munger Place," she says, "where a white woman living with African kids fits right in. I have the best of both worlds."

The Ugandan children's biggest cultural adjustment to America, says Hefley, is the behavior of American teenagers. "They are shocked at the way young people treat adults without respect," Hefley says. "Manners are so valued in Uganda. Food fights at school left them appalled."

Hefley hopes that the Children's Tour helps dispel Americans' most common misperception about Africa: that because of all the political turmoil, disease and war, there is no hope. "The Children of Uganda shows the positive side," Hefley says. "They are creating hope for themselves and the other children."

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