Haitian children's visit is a mix of celebrities and simple pleasures

Kids enjoy the simple things on glitzy tour

rcopley@herald-leader.comOctober 6, 2010 

Since arriving in Central Kentucky on Sept. 22, the two dozen children from the Centre Educatif l'Union des Coeurs in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, have met movie stars, sung for and performed with internationally acclaimed musicians and exchanged T-shirts with college basketball royalty.

But, as their trip to America draws to a close, the kids in the Haitian Harmony choir appreciate some simpler things.

"I like to be able to play soccer and to take a bath," Jean-Noel Mednightson, 11, said Monday night before performing in a concert with The Chieftains to benefit Alltech's project that brought them here.

The Haitian children's choir was the idea of Alltech founder and president Pearse Lyons after hearing the children sing when he visited Ouanaminthe. He was there to search for a project that Alltech could set up to help the struggling nation after January's earthquake in the capital, Port-au-Prince. In addition to establishing a factory in Ouanaminthe, Alltech has adopted the children's school and engaged the University of Kentucky's voice program to form a children's choir to help raise awareness of Haiti's needs.

Part of that project was bringing the choir to Lexington to perform during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and continuing to work with the children after the Games.

And they have performed: The kids, ranging in age from 6 to 12, shared the stage with tenor Ronan Tynan at the Games' opening ceremony, gave an impromptu performance at the Games for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Gustavo Dudamel, and sang at Sunday morning services at Southland Christian Church, where they have been staying. They also met University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, who exchanged T-shirts with the kids Monday night.

To be sure, some people's celebrity has been lost on the kids, who live in a crowded, dusty city with little electricity, running water or other comforts that most Americans take for granted.

A surprise appearance by actor John Lithgow backstage at the Singletary Center for the Arts had the kids puzzled — until they were told he was the voice of Lord Farquaad in the animated film Shrek, which they have watched since they arrived. Once they learned that, he became a rock star.

The simple things have had the greatest impact on the kids, but they have enjoyed their own moment in the spotlight.

"I am really happy I got to come to another country," Edacheline Petit-Frère, 9, said, translated by Alltech employee Jorge A. Gotuzzo. "I'm happy they like to hear us sing."

Jean Fely, 10, said, "It is a beautiful country. I would like to stay here."

Reach Rich Copley at (859) 231-3217 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3217.

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