A traveling youth choir from Uganda is sheltering-in-place at Camp Fellowship and Conference Center in Waterloo. Because of COVID-19 precautions, all of the choir’s upcoming gigs and accommodations for its current United States tour have been canceled for the next eight weeks.
The camp is closed to outside visitors at this time to maintain the health and safety of the choir and camp staff.
“Everyone is happy and healthy at this time. We didn’t want to leave the choir stranded,” said the Rev. Kevin Cartee, Camp Fellowship executive director.
Booked months earlier on a United States tour, the Imani Milele Choir, comprised of 21 children and a support team of 16 adults, was originally here for a two-night stay, while performing at two Laurens churches.
However, within hours of their arrival on March 17, President Donald Trump and Gov. Henry McMaster urged the public to cease congregating in large groups to reduce possible spread and exposure of COVID-19.
Cartee said normally this time of year, Camp Fellowship is quiet, but he said its population grew by “a lot” last week, with the decision to house the choir.
“Right now, we are operating under a voluntary shelter-in-place protocol,” Cartee said. “It’s nice to have 140 acres in which to spread out. We’re here helping them figure out what’s next. They are a Christian group and they had worship on-site Sunday. They are doing morning Bible study and evening devotions. ... When we asked one of the choir’s support staff what the children need right now, she said the children need to sing. I’ve encouraged them to sing all the time.”
Cartee said he’s looking into ways to possibly share the choir’s gift of music with the larger community through a livestream.
Camp staff, Cartee said, is essentially now working a full-time schedule, to provide shelter, meals and additional cleaning.
Ordinarily, the traveling choir stays with host families in towns where they are touring, Cartee said, but Camp Fellowship was asked to provide lodging for the choir in this case.
“We are also practicing additional protocols within our foodservice operations so we can feed them, such as limiting contact in the dining room and additional cleaning in the dining room,” Cartee said. “There is a set group of our staff, who has chosen to be here, to provide food and shelter for the choir during this time. The group is here until April 1 at least. We do expect that time to extend.”
Cartee said Camp Fellowship is working with its partners, churches and donors and with the choir’s home organization, which has offices in Uganda and Florida. to provide support for the choir during their stay.
So far, Cartee said the camp is still able to receive supplies through its normal channels, including food service delivery.
“The best help anyone can provide us right now is financial donations,” Cartee said,
Direct costs per day right now, not counting overhead, Cartee said, is about $14 per person, per day.
“That covers shelter, electricity, food and foodservice employees,” Cartee said. “While we know there are people who would love to contribute something tangible, it’s really best if we continue to use our distribution channels because that doesn’t put stress on local stores.
“I had to go to Bi-Lo Sunday to pick things that we needed and people were looking at me as if I were hoarding,” Cartee added. “In reality, I was buying for the 40-plus people at our camp during this time. While we can still receive through our distributors, we’re doing that.”
Sam Straxy, Imani Milele choir director said Camp Fellowship has been “a place of peace and tranquility for the group.”
In a text message to the Index-Journal via Kevin Cartee, Straxy relayed, “the kids get to play and do fun activities. The staff is really helpful and kind...We continue to pray that this crisis may cease and our lives get back to normal.”
Cartee said there are no language barriers as the choir and its support staff speak English fluently and they are able to translate from their native language when needed.
Fortunately, the choir’s support team includes a nurse, teachers, a bus driver, sound technicians and videographers.
“Everyone is in really good spirits,” Cartee said. “Just like children anywhere, they have smiles on their faces and are appreciative of this safe space. From 25 yards away, I will hear them say. ‘Thank you, Mister Kevin and Camp Fellowship.’ We do check-ins daily and we are monitoring everyone’s physical health, including the staff.”
Cartee said the choir is able to stay in contact with people in Uganda through mobile messaging via WhatsApp and Facebook.
“We’re fortunate here at the camp to have DSL internet service,” Cartee said. “Sometimes, we complain about the speed, but right now, we will take anything we can get. That’s been our link to the outside world.”