December 11, 2013 - They came to America with a song in their heart, joy in their eyes and thankfulness in their spirit despite their troubled lives at home in Durban, South Africa.
Key of Hope performs at First Congregational Church. Photo by Andrea Beaudoin (click for larger version)
Key of Hope a 501(c) 3 organization brought 22 kids to America to perform concerts around Michigan in a performance called "Sound of Hope."
Last week the group visited the 1st Congressional Church in Clarkston to perform for visitors.
The performance called "Sound of Hope" As the choir performed they listen intently on hand motion made by founder Rachel Smither.
Just before the performance, a video depicting the way of life for children from Durban filled a projector screen with images of a life much different than life in America.
Key of Hope founders Rachel and Dan Smither said it's their mission to bring the life changing love of God to children-not only through solid gospel teaching, but also in tangible ways that demonstrate that love.
Each week Key of Hope visits 1,000 children in their squatter camps near Durban in their hillside homesteads-places filled with the ways of extreme poverty, to provide whatever help they possibly can.
"There are 10,000 children just outside our reach," said Rachel. 10,000 more children right there that Key of Hope wishes they could reach out too and help.
Kids they care for have not only face a difficult life just to find the necessities needed to survive they have also been effected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, one of the worst in the world in the area they live. Some are orphaned from AIDS-leaving them without Parents. Some have the disease themselves.
The HIV/AIDS statistics are alarming – 1 in 5 are HIV positive, and every hour 35 people die of AIDS. An estimated three to six million children have been orphaned by the epidemic.
Although a shack may not be much for a home, for some it's all they have and when their parents die that home rightfully belongs to the child, Dan said. Many times someone will often come along and steal the shack and only possessions they have.
Key of Hope stands up for these children by involving the police, governments and encouraging other members of the community to pressure the thief into going the home back to a child.
Dan said many times family members or neighbors will take in an orphaned child, even when their family resources are stretched to the max.
"Even when they can't even feed themselves, they will still take in a child who has been orphaned," he said.
Key of Hope helps by making weekly stops to visit the kids and make sure the family has whatever they need.
The area they live is also riddled with crime such as kidnapping, child rape and violence.
Even though their way of life is difficult, the kids hold education in high regard.
"We value education here," said one boy in the choir.
"Education is not free in Africa, Dan said, adding that just $75 sends one child to school for an entire year.
"They take school very seriously because many of them cannot go to school for many reasons. "Although it's just $75 it may as well be a million dollars," said Dan.
Melissa Carozza, who helped plan the meals while the kids were in Michigan visited Africa over the summer and said you just cannot imagine how life is where the kids live. "Everything here to them is incredible even the carpet in a house," she said.
Another major problem the children face is a lack of water.
When they first got to the US we noticed the water taps in the sink where we are staying would always be left on," said Dan. "Over in Africa to get water you need to hold the water tap down and when you let go the water stops. They though the sink was broken because the water just kept coming out."
"You have food here everywhere in America, in South Africa food is hard to find," said one girl.
"Anything you want here you find everything," said one boy.
During a trip to a farm the kids were amazed that table scraps were given being fed to animals on the farm.
Before the choir performs, a video is played depicting scenes from in their homeland. Scenes are filled with a life of hardship and squalor.
Each of the kids in the choir will tell you life much different than life here in America.
Dan & Rachel
John Gunn, founder and executive director of Power Company, knows Dan and Rachel well. Rachel also formed a choir while working with kids at Power Company Kids Club in Pontiac where she and Dan helped troubled kids.
Gunn said Rachel and Dan, both Michigan natives, have always been devoted to troubled kids. He added that while working at Power Company they couple encouraged kids to stay in school, stay out of trouble, and say no to drugs. They helped them stay on the straight and narrow," he said.
"Dan and Rachel are great leaders and they have taken that same devotion with a staff of seven in eight squatter camps in Durban."
In 2008 Dan and Rachel decided to sell everything they own and go on a mission to help those afflicted by HIV/AIDS. "We sold everything," he said. "Our house, our car-everything."
Dan said he and Rachel sold everything because they felt God was calling to embrace a similar mission and help troubled children.
Although they were uncertain of where they wanted to go they eventually decided on Africa to work in one of the hardest hit areas of the world for HIV/AIDS.
After selling everything, they arrived in South Africa with just 16 suitcases not knowing exactly where they were headed.
Since they arrived that day in South Africa, they work continues helping make life easier and spreading the word of God.
Many of the kids did not know god before Key of Hope ministered to them, Rachel said.
"They think no one cares about them and Key of Hope makes them feel like they are loved. When we first start visiting the kids it's hard to tell them God loves you when their life is so bad, but after a few years of helping them move towards a better life we go back to them and tell them see God loves you."
Key of Hope will be in America through December performing at various locations. For more information and performance dates, visit www.Keyofhope.org
Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.