Wheels up for local choir headed to South Africa

July 10, 2013

Some of the kids on Flight 232 that left Dulles for Dubai on Wednesday morning have never been to Africa. Or another country. Or on an airplane. A couple of them told me they’ve never been farther from home than Tyson’s Corner.

But thanks to their hard work and the generosity of hundreds of Washington Post readers, 47 kids from Hyattsville who sing like angels flew through the skies and will land in South Africa this week.

The Northwestern High School Choir made it.

This high school choir, which consistently rates in the highest categories in regional competitions and gives goosebumps to anyone lucky enough to hear them sing, was the only school choir in the nation invited to participate in an annual, prestigious choral festival in South Africa.

But when I met them in March, they had raised only about $40,000 of the $100,000 they needed to make the trip.

They had been baking, selling cookies, selling fruit, singing at churches for cash donations. You should see the instructions they got online about all their concerts and events, sometimes several in one week. (” (You) need to be at the school no later than 4:45 a.m. No staying up until 2 a.m., thinking you’re going to be up before 4 a.m.! Have a good nights sleep.!”)

In March, just one month before they needed to put down a hefty deposit for their trip, it seemed impossible.

It was going to be like Prague, Vienna and London — three cities where the choir had been invited to come sing, but had to decline because the working-class families at this school in Prince George’s County couldn’t afford to send their kids.

After I wrote a column about their struggle, Washington Post readers deluged them with donations. They got their $100,000 in a matter of days.

Choir director Leona Lowery sent the deposit just as the choir organizers were about to drop them from the program.

So when it was just about dawn on Wednesday morning, parents took their kids to the meeting spot in Hyattsville. They were parents who had recently lost their homes or their jobs, parents whose savings were devoured by the health crisis of an uninsured relative or a government furlough.

On Wednesday, they became the parents of international travelers.

The choir’s Facebook page had photos of the parental goodbyes, their check-in at Dulles Airport, their clearance through security, their ride on the airport train, the inside of the plane…(Remember, this is the first airplane trip for some of them).

I can’t wait to hear about all the amazing things they will see in the next two weeks. Thanks again, Washington Post readers. You’re the ones who did this.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things.
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