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University of Iowa News Release

March 10, 2006

Children Of Uganda Promote Awareness Of African AIDS With Hancher Concert

The Children of Uganda, a music and dance company composed entirely of children orphaned by the African AIDS epidemic, will perform at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26 in Hancher Auditorium on the University of Iowa campus.

In addition to the Sunday performance, the company will also present a performance for school groups on Hancher's Stage Door series and will present a mini-performance for patients and families at the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Ranging in age from 6 to 20, the 22-member troupe led by Peter Kasule has toured the United States biennially since 1996, performing in dozens of cities across the country and at hundreds of venues -- from the White House to the Grammy Awards to David Letterman. Through dance and song, Children of Uganda's exuberant programs tell the stories and history, the legends and beliefs of East Africa.

The ensemble tours to raise funds and also to raise awareness of the awful toll that AIDS is taking in Africa, not only on afflicted individuals but also on their families and society in general. In their homeland of Uganda alone, nearly one million children under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to HIV.

"Twenty years ago Uganda emerged from decades of brutal repression to face an even greater challenge -- HIV/AIDS," says Peter Kasule, artistic director, whose parents died of the disease a decade ago. "Even though our region is still torn by conflict and crisis, our culture grows thicker and richer, and also more diverse and contemporary. The music and dance we preserve, adapt and create is integral to Uganda's renewal and will help shape tomorrow's generations."

Members of the Children of Uganda play a variety of drums, harps, flutes and xylophones and perform dances from countries including Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Tanzania and Kenya; and they sing in Luganda, Swahili and English.

The group's costumes incorporate traditional and modern Ugandan textiles. Some elements are integral to the performance of a particular dance. For example, ankle bells are worn by dancers to emphasize their foot movements, while a bright, multicolored cloth is the same as that worn by women as a long skirt for special celebrations.

The Children of Uganda was established in 1995 to care for orphans and other disadvantaged children in Uganda, with the goal of helping them become healthy and productive members of society. The organization supports two orphanages in Uganda, as well as children living with HIV-positive widowed mothers and has more than 700 children under its care.

The Children of Uganda also sponsors the education of Ugandan children abroad with its U.S. Scholarship Program and the award-winning dance troupe tour internationally to raise funds and increase awareness of AIDS and its impact on children.

This year's tour is titled the "Tour of Light," a reference to the positive spirit of the Ugandan culture. Alexis Hefley, the founder of Ugandan Children's Charity Foundation (UCCF) said of the theme, "Africa gets pinned as a dark continent, but it is a continent of life. There is hope; this is a way to make a difference and change the world."

Hefley founded UCCF after quitting a lucrative banking career. "I thought there must be more to this -- to life," she says. "So I started asking God for a passion and a calling."

Hefley took a job with a humanitarian organization in Washington, D.C., and it was her contact there with Ohio congressman Tony Hall and his wife that inspired her to go to Uganda in 1993 as a guest of the country's First Lady, Janet Museveni.

"I heard about a Ugandan nun who was working with orphans and had been doing so since Idi Amin was in power," Hefley recalls. "So I walked one day to her orphanage. It was in the centre of Kampala." That nun was Sister Rose Muyinza, who founded the Daughters of Charity in Uganda.

"She wasn't your normal nun," Hefley explains. "She was more like Whoopi Goldberg. She taught the children singing and dancing and I thought, wow."

Hefley started working at the orphanage and devised the first Children of Uganda tour to enable the children from the orphanage to share their culture through song and dance while also raising awareness of Uganda's AIDS epidemic.

The success of the first tour, which was in the United States, prompted Hefley to move back and found the nonprofit UCCF with the aim of ensuring the well-being of the orphans, as well as their education.

The March 3 concert is supported by Gwen Johnson, Lepic-Kroeger Realtors; Gary Stetzel, Tanner Development LLC; and UI Hospitals & Clinics through the University of Iowa Foundation.

Tickets are $30/28/25; UI student $27/15; senior citizen $27/25.20/22.50; youth $21/19.60/17.50.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website: http://www.hancher.uiowa.edu.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: hancher-box-office@uiowa.edu.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, ur-acr@uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu

PHOTOS are available at http://www.uiowa.edu/hancher/media05.html