Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Agape Choir and the forgotten victims of Aids

On Thursday I went to a showing of Rise Film's award winning film "We are Together" about Agape, an orphanage in South Africa for children who have lost their parents to Aids. It is a story of a home for those without any other home, and how the children have become famous for their singing. They sing with the most amazing voices that both heal and give hope. It was the second time I had seen it, and for the second time I and many others found it hard to keep back the tears.
It was not just because of the amazingly moving story of the courage and determination of the children, but because the story of their lives continues. The documentary was made almost by accident - an idea of two film students who were on VSO in South Africa who used their skills to capture the story of this most remarkable small community. And they have now set up a campaign, run through the Rise Foundation, to raise £500,000 to help pay for the education of the children through to university.
It is perhaps the most compelling call for giving that I have seen in a long time - because the money you donate goes not just to the orphanage you see but to the very children in the film who you feel you get to know so well.
The Agape choir were asked by Nelson Mandela to sing at his birthday concert in London. Fourteen of them came over and sang their theme song "We are together" with Annie Lennox to millons across the world. The children will now go back to South Africa, and face the daily struggle of trying to make up for lost years when their parents were ill or they missed school, and along side do all they can through the power of their singing to make life better for themselves and others like them. It is incumbant on us to find ways to remember them and their fates and others like them once the TV cameras stop rolling.
One line in the film really stood out for me this time. It was a comment by the older sister of one of the orphans at Agape, who soon after they also lost their brother to Aids, said "I feel our future is bright, because we spend so much time together as a family". In the modern fast world we live in, such a simple truth rings out as a stark reminder of why families and communities are so important.