Korean NGO brings hope to Kenyan children via choir project

“Hakuna Matata” (“There are no worries” or “No problem”). This Swahili phrase may ring a bell with you. Walt Disney Animation Studios once used it as the title of a song from the animated feature film “The Lion King.”It is the theme of the Jirani Children’s Choir which is currently on a performing tour in Korea. The choir from Kenya starts every performance with a shout “Jambo, Hakuna Matata!” (Hello, there are no worries!).

The Jirani Children’s Choir has come all the way from Nairobi, Kenya, where it was founded by a world-renowned Korean NGO, Good Neighbors International, a Christian philanthropic organization that offers assistance to anyone in need, regardless of race, nationality, religion, or ideology. Jirani means “good neighbors” in Swahili.

The Kenyan children’s choir consists of over 100 primary and secondary school boys and girls. But only 35 members — 12 sopranos, 10 mezzo sopranos, and 13 altos — are currently touring. Their favorites in the repertoire include African and Korean traditional folk songs which they sing in a semi-classic style, or more precisely in an African way.

Their families and neighbors have benefited from an increased sense of self-worth and hope that Jirani brings to these boys and girls. Theirs is a touching story and Jirani members sing songs of hope. Before joining the choir, the children used to live by foraging a garbage dump in the Korogocho-Dandora slum of Nairobi.

Rev. Rim Tae-jong, president of the Jirani Choir, was shocked in January 2005, when he watched the Kenyan children roaming in the garbage

dump in Korogocho slum district. He said, “I felt shocked by the scene and even pressured to decide to do something for them.”
In December 2005, Rim started the Jirani Choir project to provide hope and a vision for a better future to children in the Korogocho-Dandora slum. Finally, the Jirani Children’s Choir was launched after an inaugural prayer service was held in Nairobi in October 2006.

After its launch, the choir gave a debut performance at the National Theatre in Nairobi in December the same year. About 400 audience, including the Kenyan culture minister, attended its inaugural performance. The children gave a performance at the Dutch Embassy to Kenya on Koningsdag (King’s Day) of the Netherlands in April 2007. The choir was invited to the State House in Nairobi to entertain the president of Kenya and his national guests for Independence Day celebrations.

The choir visited Korea for the first time for a performing tour from November 2007 to January 2008, during which the Kenyan children gave 25 concerts in 10 cities, such as Seoul, Incheon, Gwacheon, Daejeon, Iksan, Yeosu, Ulsan, and Busan, for a total of 52 days. At the time, the choir appeared on TV and radio programs over 10 times, and received much publicity from the press. It also visited the United States for a performance tour in June 2008.
The Jirani Children’s Choir conducted by Kim Jae-chang, a baritone and an internationally known musician, also sing Korean traditional folk songs, such as “Doraji” (balloonflower) and “Arirang.” The choir has been touring around the world under the mottos “Discover Jirani!” and “Recover Hope!” They claim, “The songs we sing are not heard anywhere else in the world.”
Currently, the Kenyan children have been on a performing tour throughout Korea since early December this year for their second visit here. They have already performed in Seongnam, Seoul, Daejeon, Bucheon, Ulsan, and Busan, beginning with a concert at Hallelujah Church in Bundang, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province on Dec. 3.

The following are details on the schedule of concerts the Jirani Children’s Choir is giving in Korea in late December and early January before it leaves for Kenya:

☆Dec. 24: 7 p.m. at Dongan Church (Imun 2-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul; telephone – 02-962-0727, http://www.dongan.org/); admission free

☆Dec. 25: 11 a.m. at Songnae Sarangui Church (Songnae-dong, Sosa-gu, Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province; telephones – 032-661-9191 and 032-661-9013/4, http://www.snsarang.org/); admission free

☆Dec. 27: 7 p.m. at Seoul Eunhyeon Church (Bukgajwa-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul; telephone – 02-375-1588); admission free

☆Dec. 28: 7 p.m. at Iksan Singwang Church (Ma-dong, Iksan, Jeollabuk-do (North Jeolla Province); telephone – 063-850-4114); admission free

☆Dec. 30: 7:30 p.m. at the Concert Hall of Seongnam Arts Center (Yatap-dong, Bundang, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province; telephone – 031-783-8000, http://www.snart.or.kr/); admission fees: VIP seat – 50,000 won, R seat – 30,000 won, S seat – 20,000 won, and A seat – 10,000 won

☆Dec. 31: 7 p.m. at Jeongeup Seonggwang Church (for more information, call the Jeongeup Shinmun daily in Suseong-dong, Jeongeup, Jeollabuk-do at 063-532-7600); admission fee – 10,000 won

☆Jan. 3, 2009: 7 p.m. at Bucheon Citizens Hall; admission fees: R seat – 40,000 won, S seat – 30,000 won, and A seat – 20,000 won (40 percent discount if you buy tickets by Dec. 28) For more information, call 032-220-7052/4.

For more information, contact Good Neighbors International, Mapo PO Box 7, Seoul (zip code: 121-600) or call 02-338-0114, or contact Jirani Cultural Project Foundation (02-3461-7200).

For Jirani Children’s Choir websites, click http://www.jirani.net/ (Korean) and http://www.jirani.kr/eng/ (English).

For Good Neighbors International’s websites, click http://www.goodneighbors.org/ (Korean) and http://www.gnint.org/ (English), and http://www.goodneighbors.org/jirani/www/main.htm (English for Jirani Children’s Choir).

Written by Chung Myung-je (Korea.net / Chief Staff Writer)


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