It’s just one stop in a tour of 10 West Virginia cities.
Thursday's performance at the Clay Center in Charleston will feature a former choir member, who now lives in Fairmont, to tell her story of escaping genocide in Rwanda and finding refuge at Africa University.
Claudine Leary grew up in Rwanda, but in 1994 she was forced to flee because of the genocide.
"Leaving Rwanda was actually a big blessing," Leary says. "Because it was during the war. So, I fled. I did not make a decision to leave. It was just either you die or you run out. That’s the way I left. I really was grateful to find my self out."
She was in a refugee camp in Malawi, when a Jesuit missionary helped her to get out and attend Africa University in Zimbabwe.
"Having the opportunity to leave a refugee camp, whether you’re going to rent a home or going to college is a blessing; so going to college was a way big blessing," Leary explains, "and I was really excited to go and I was grateful and thanking God for this opportunity."
At Africa University, Leary majored in marketing and threw herself into campus life. She worked as an administrative assistant and volunteered at a nearby orphanage. She also joined the choir.
Leary says she joined the choir because it was really fun.
"I love to sing. I don’t have a very good voice, but I love to sing. I use to sing as a kid, my mom -- she loved to volunteer to sing in church with us, the kids in church. It was just one of those things you feel like…its fun."
Members of the Africa University choir sing for school functions. They also serve as ambassadors for the university, telling people about the school and raising money for scholarships.
"We traveled a lot," Leary remembers. "We sung to various churches in the country, United Methodist Churches. Also, we were the choir to sing for the University on Sunday morning and Wednesday morning during the service, and most of the music was lively with drums and people just…it was fun, it was just very lively experience."
Leary married a West Virginia missionary who was working in Africa, and they moved to Fairmont in 2003. She felt welcomed when she came to West Virginia,
"It’s basically the people. When we came here, we were so welcomed and loved and so loved and loved and loved. It’s beautiful; everyone was like they’d known us for a long…for our lives basically."
But some differences did catch her off guard. She remembers her first West Virginia winter.
"I did not want to wear boots," she explains. "My husband took me to the boot station, and I did not believe he thinks I would wear those shoes. But, the reality of winter caught up with me, and I immediately and went and bought a pair."
While the strife that Leary fled in Rwanda is now many miles and years behind her, it continues to affect how she sees the world.
"It shaped me who I am very much, because I have now more eye to those who are in a very disadvantaged situation. I’ve discovered that I’ve changed very much, because…Before I was just enjoying my life, hanging out with friends, having career plans, making all I can to make sure my parents are happy with everything going on. That was all my priorities before. But after that, everything now to me has changed. I’m more concerned about the well-being of others, and thinking of ways that I can help or improve others, because of how I know things have been done for me and how I know the pain of different situations."
Claudine Leary is looking forward to hearing her old choir during the tour, and she hopes that others will help support her alma mater.
She says, "The only thing I’ll do is just ask, or add, is people to pray for Africa University, because the country of Zimbabwe is really in very bad shape. I think their inflation rate is above like 230 million percent. They are really challenged right now, operating in such an environment is really not easy. And most of the students who come to the institution from very, very challenged situations, some worse than mine at the time."