ASIA BIBI SUPREME COURT APPEAL DATE SET FOR SECOND WEEK IN OCTOBER

Pakistani Christians pray for her freedom and their safety!

 

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Asia Bibi – will she finally be freed?

By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service

Pakistani Christians have expressed great joy and fear after receiving news that Asia Bibi, Pakistan’s most famous blasphemy law victim, will finally have her long awaited Supreme Court appeal hearing during the second week of October.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Anwar Zaheer Jamali, yesterday (Monday, August 22, 2016), ordered the Supreme Court to fix a date in October, the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) were advised by Asia’s solicitor (lawyer).

Asia Bibi’s nightmare back in June of 2009, when she was harvesting falsa berries with a group of mainly Muslim women farmhands in a field in Sheikhupura in Punjab Province. She was asked at one point to fetch water from a nearby well; to which she complied, but stopped to take a drink with an old metal cup she had found lying next to the well.Asia_Bibi_use

A neighbor of Asia, who had allegedly been involved in a running feud with her family about some property damage, saw her and angrily told her that it was forbidden for a Christian to drink water from the same utensil from which Muslims drank, and some of the other workers considered her to be “unclean” because she was a Christian.

Some arguments ensued and Asia recounts that when they made derogatory statements about her religion, she responded by telling them, “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”

This incensed the women, and later, some of the workers complained to a local Islamic cleric claiming that she had insulted Muhammad and soon an angry mob came to her house, beating her and members of her family before she was rescued by the police. One report even alleged that she was gang-raped for her alleged crime of blasphemy, was been beaten all the way home, and then her children were later sexually molested.

The police initiated an investigation about her remarks, resulting in her arrest under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code. She subsequently was imprisoned for over a year upon the demands of the local Iman, before being formally charged under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. Asia Bibi has now been incarcerated since June 2009.

Ms. Bibi denied that she had committed blasphemy and said that she had been accused by her neighbor to “settle an old score”. In November 2010, Muhammed Naveed Iqbal, a judge at the court of Sheikhupura, sentenced her to death by hanging. Additionally, a fine of the equivalent of $1,100 was imposed. With the verdict, she became the first woman condemned to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges.

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Salmaan Taseer with Asia Bibi, a meeting that is thought to have cost him his life.

Asia Bibi described the day of her sentencing as follows: “I cried alone, putting my head in my hands. I can no longer bear the sight of people full of hatred, applauding the killing of a poor farm worker. I no longer see them, but I still hear them, the crowd who gave the judge a standing ovation, saying: ‘Kill her, kill her! Allahu Akbar! The court house is invaded by a euphoric horde who break down the doors, chanting: ‘Vengeance for the holy prophet. Allah is great!’ I was then thrown like an old rubbish sack into the van… I had lost all humanity in their eyes.”

“Asia Bibi, has always upheld that she will be set free by God’s grace even when it has seemed like there was no chance of freedom,” said a spokesperson for the BPCA. “After a failed appeal at the Lahore High Court on October 16, 2014, many thought freedom was beyond Asia Bibi.

“However, in a pre-trial hearing at Pakistan’s Supreme Court on July 22, 2015, the court suspended her death sentence permitting an appeal. In her appeal hearing Asia intends to ask the court to reconsider deficiencies in the case which include poor investigation and manipulated evidence by the local police.”

The appeal was originally meant to have been held on March 26, 2016, but after the judiciary and Government of Pakistan decided to push through with the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri under anti-terrorism laws they were forced to postpone Asia Bibi’s appeal hearing.

Mumtaz Qadri had admitted to assassinating Salmaan Taseer, the then Governor of Punjab for his stance calling for abrogation of the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan and freedom for Asia Bibi.

In the wake of Mr Qadri’s death a wave of demonstrations, including 100,000 Muslims encamped during a sit in protest outside Government buildings in Islamabad, where they demanded termination of proposed reforms of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan and death for Asia Bibi.

The government caved in on the law reforms which had passed through Parliament and were to be ratified in the Senate of Pakistan. Many Christians at this point thought Asia Bibi’s chance of freedom had run out and that the government had failed her and other minorities – especially when they postponed her case due to the scale of social schism.

“However,” continued the BPCA spokesperson, “news of the revised date for the appeal hearing has now induced mixed feelings. Many Pakistani Christians believe the date will be postponed again when the Muslim protests for Asia Bibi’s death resume, they still recall the five postponements before Asia Bibi had her Lahore High Court Appeal rejected.

“Moreover, despite their joy and delight that Asia Bibi will have her day in court and a chance for justice, they fear that a community backlash will result in attacks on the innocent Christian communities across the country. Despite their fears every Pakistani Christian stands with Asia Bibi and is praying for her release.”

Whilst in prison Asia Bibi has been forced to cook her own food due to attempts to poison her, whist bullying from other inmates has also meant she is forced to stay in isolation. Last year BPCA reported on her failing health.

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Mumtaz Qadri after his arrest.

This Supreme Court hearing will be the final opportunity for Asia Bibi to gain freedom through the country’s law courts. Failing this she will have to rely on a presidential pardon under article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which states:

45. President’s power to grant pardon, etc.-The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.

Wilson Chowdhry, the Pakistan-born Chairman of the BPCA, said in a message sent to ANS: “Asia Bibi has suffered the injustice of five years’ imprisonment for a made up crime. A cultural faux pas and innocuous comment made while being attacked, led to her being raped, her children being sexually molested, and her arrest under the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan for good measure yet no-one else was arrested for the violence to her?

“As a devout Christian she continues to believe that God will free her from her ignominious incarceration. She prays daily and has placed her life and her family before God.”

Mr. Chowdhry berated previous governments for failing to free Asia, adding, “I have spoken to Pakistani government officials and the judiciary. All of them express great shock at the ongoing abuse of her liberty. Yet Asia’s tragedy continues. I have come to the conclusion that all I have been receiving is diplomatic lip service, devoid of passion for justice.

“Asia’s story is one of oppression and discrimination and despite international pressure, statutory authorities and the Government of Pakistan have failed her, just as they have failed all minorities in Pakistan.”

He concluded by saying, “Freedom for Asia Bibi would be a watershed moment in the campaign for justice, equality and freedom for minorities in Pakistan. Previous governments have failed miserably, but I believe the incumbent Government is genuinely attempting to restore the balance. I hope that effective protection is provided to Asia and her family, the judiciary and all persons that could make this latest appeal a success. Any half-hearted approach will undermine Asia’s trial and create a further blight on Pakistan’s reputation.”

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Pakistani Muslims demand the hanging of Asia Bibi.

Still, BPCA told ANS that it expects a “large mob of Muslims baying for the blood of Asia Bibi outside the Supreme court during the hearing, a scene very common to trials of this nature in Pakistan.”

The spokesperson said, “We are calling on the Pakistani Government to ensure that known ring-leaders are rounded up and prosecuted under the countries incitement to hatred laws.

Main Pakistani Muslims demand execution of Asia Bibi“If these extremist elements are allowed to foment violence against innocent Christians, then it will be the government and security forces that will be to blame. Any community tension must be controlled and attacks curbed by security forces ensuring that innocent Christian communities are protected, during a time when their pariah status is set to reach epic levels.”

Many Christians in Pakistani are deeply concerned that if she is finally freed, she and her family would be the immediate target for assassins in an extra-judicial killing as they left the court. Already, the Mayor of Paris, France, has offered sanctuary to them, but in view of recent terrorist attacks there, they may not be safe. So please prayer for this situation.

The BPCA has told ANS that it has continued its appeal to support the Asia Bibi and her family. If you would like to donate towards the upcoming appeal, please go to: https://britishpakistanichristians.worldsecuresystems.com/donate.

To sign the BPCA Petition on behalf of Asia Bibi, go to: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/justice4asia.

Sudan: update on detained church leaders

Christians in Sudan have requested further prayers for four church leaders detained by the Sudanese authorities.

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The trial of the four Christians has now begun, and the second court hearing was held on Monday 21st August.

As expected, the four have been charged with several serious offences, including waging war against the state, espionage activities, conspiracy to carry out criminal acts, and undermining the authority of the state through violence.

Some of the charges are punishable with the death penalty.

The trial was originally intended to begin on 14th August, but the four defendants were not brought to court from prison.

An investigator from the prosecutor’s office has given his statement, and the next hearing is expected to take place on Monday 29th August.

The prosecutor may question the investigator about his findings.

Prayer points

Sudanese Christians request prayer:

a. that the four detained church leaders will know the Lord’s strength and comfort during their ordeal
b. for a fair judicial process, and that the four will be acquitted of all charges
c. that church leaders and other Christians will know the Lord’s peace in the face of the increasing pressure against churches
d. that all officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him

SOURCE: “MIDDLE EAST CONCERN”

Turkey wedding suicide bomber ‘was child aged 12-14’

A suicide bombing which killed 51 people in the Turkish city of Gaziantep was carried out by a 12 to 14-year-old, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

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The streets filled with people just after the blast on Saturday evening

Mr Erdogan said the so-called Islamic State (IS) was behind the attack, which targeted a Kurdish wedding party. Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, is known to have several IS cells.

The bomb wounded 69 people, Mr Erdogan added, 17 of them seriously.

The bomber targeted the wedding guests as they danced in the street.

The BBC’s Seref Isler, who is from Gaziantep, says the city of 1.5 million was already on edge because of events in Syria, where IS has been battling Syrian Kurdish forces.

A suicide bomber believed to have links to IS killed two policemen in Gaziantep in May.

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A police officer secures the scene of an explosion where a suspected suicide bomber targeted a wedding celebration in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, Turkey, 21 AugustImage copyrightREUTERS

Was IS behind this? Analysis by Mark Lowen, BBC News, Istanbul

The choice of target seems designed for maximum effect: those enjoying a moment of a celebration at a wedding party.

If this was an attack by so-called Islamic State, it could be a response to the jihadists’ recent loss of territory in Syria. Kurdish fighters with the US-led coalition drove them out of a stronghold, Manbij. Perhaps this attack on a Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep was an act of revenge.

It comes as Turkey’s prime minister announces that his government will play a more active part in the Syrian conflict. We understand that Turkish-backed rebels are preparing a further offensive into the IS-held province of Jarablus and will be granted safe passage across the Turkish border. This attack could have been a warning shot by IS.

In a written statement published by local media (in Turkish), Mr Erdogan argued there was “no difference” between IS, the Kurdish militants of the PKK, and followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for the coup attempt last month.

“Our country and our nation have again only one message to those who attack us – you will not succeed!” he said.

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Victims of the blast included a three-month old baby girl

‘Blood everywhere’

The bomb went off in a part of town popular with students and which has a large Kurdish community.

Local MP Mahmut Togrul told the Reuters news agency it had been a Kurdish wedding.

Mr Togrul’s party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said the wedding had been for one of its members.

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Women wait outside a morgue in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, 21 AugustImage copyrightREUTERS

According to a report (in Turkish) by Turkey’s Dogan news agency, the couple had moved to Gaziantep from the Kurdish town of Siirt further east to escape fighting between Kurdish rebels and security forces.

Media reports in Turkey said that the married couple survived the blast but were taken to hospital.

On Sunday morning, smashed garage doors and windows could be seen at the site of the blast, Reuters reports.

“The celebrations were coming to an end and there was a big explosion among people dancing,” said Veli Can, 25.

“There was blood and body parts everywhere.”

The United States condemned the attack, calling it a “barbaric act”.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said: “We stand with the people of Turkey as they defend their democracy in the face of all forms or terrorism.”

On Saturday, Turkey’s government said the country would take a more active role in efforts to end the war in Syria.

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Deadliest recent attacks on civilians in Turkey
20 August: Bomb attack on wedding party in Gaziantep kills at least 51 people, IS suspected

29 June: A gun and bomb attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul kills 45 people, in an attack blamed on IS militants

13 March: 37 people are killed by Kurdish militants in a suicide car bombing in Ankara

17 February: 29 people, many of them civilians, are killed in an attack on a military convoy in Ankara

12 January: 10 people, including at least eight German tourists, die in a suicide bombing in Istanbul, thought to have been carried out by IS

October 2015: More than 100 people die in a double suicide bombing at a Kurdish peace rally in Ankara – the deadliest attack of its kind on Turkish soil

Source: BBC News

Once again, the world has been shocked by the image of a Syrian child.

Friends In The West note:

War always comes at a price! When that price includes injury and death to children, then it’s even harder to take. Anyone with a heart that has any compassion is bound to have been moved by this now famous image of young Omran Daqneesh. This is not something a boy of his age should have to go through. I suppose we should at least be thankful that his young life has been spared and we pray that he will make a full physical recovery, though it doesn’t require a doctorate in psychology to work out that mental scars may remain for a long time to come.

For obvious reasons, Omran’s image attracted our attention. His photo has been featured on the front page of every major international newspaper, discussed on the news, and has gone viral on social media.

But the writer of this BBC article below, Lina Sergie Attar, has also come up with some poignant statements to accompany the image. They’re sad but true and we probably now need to look beyond the photo and take these comments on board. We have highlighted some of them below:

“It seems the end of summer has become a yearly tradition for the world to awaken to Syria’s tragedy through the photos of its suffering children.”

“The international community and the UN wring their hands. And then about a year passes and another image goes viral. Over and over.”

“For children like Omran, all he has known in his life is war.”

“For millions of Syrian children growing up during this gruelling conflict, their realities are bleak and their futures even bleaker.”

“Every day there are so many Omrans whose images you will never see and whose names you will never know”.

“This is not a hashtag moment. This is not a viral moment. This is a moment that must become a movement to end the war.”

 

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by Lina Sergie Attar

The iconic image of a bloodied Syrian boy in an ambulance has sparked international compassion but, asks Lina Sergie Attar, can it now transcend being just a hashtag or viral moment and become a movement to end the war?

“He looks like a statue.” That’s what my 11-year-old daughter said when she saw the video of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh covered in grey dust and fresh blood, sitting on a bright orange chair in an ambulance.

He sits in complete silence, staring ahead with deadened eyes.

The statue moves. He touches his bloody forehead and studies his hand with confusion.

Then little Omran does what every parent has witnessed their child do. After a moment’s hesitation, he wipes his hand on the chair. Except our children have done the same with ketchup, ice cream, chocolate. Not blood.

Yearly tradition

Once again, the world has been shocked by the image of a Syrian child.

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Russia has denied that its warplanes bombed Omran Daqneesh’s home in rebel-held Aleppo

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Hundreds of civilians, many of them children, have been killed in Aleppo in recent weeks

Omran was rescued with his family by the Syrian Civil Defence (also known as the White Helmets) after a reported Russian air strike hit his home in rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Wednesday.

His photo has been featured on the front page of every major international newspaper, discussed on the news, and has gone viral on social media.

It seems the end of summer has become a yearly tradition for the world to awaken to Syria’s tragedy through the photos of its suffering children.

Three years ago, it was the images of gassed children from the Ghouta region outside Damascus, who suffocated to death after a chemical weapons attack on their neighbourhoods – widely blamed on regime forces – as they slept in underground bomb shelters.

They looked like perfect porcelain dolls lined up in a row, waxy and unblemished.

One year ago, it was the photo of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi who washed up on a Turkish beach after drowning while trying to reach Greece with his family as they fled the war like millions of other refugees.

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Alan Kurdi (L) and his brother Galib both drowned trying to reach Greece. An image of Alan’s body on the beach sparked an international outpouring of compassion

Alan captured the world’s hearts and compassion with his red T-shirt, navy shorts, and sturdy little shoes – a universal toddler outfit – and became the symbol of the plight of refugees.

Omran is the Syrian icon of 2016.

Unfortunately, every year these images are followed by millions of tweets, likes, and shares; they inspire public outrage and an outpouring of compassionate donations to aid organisations; and then, after a few days or weeks, the image and the crisis are forgotten.

The world moves on. Air raids by the Syrian government and its allies continue to drop bombs of all sorts on civilians; so-called Islamic State (IS) continues to terrorise Syrians living under its control; the death toll rises and the refugee crisis continues to escalate.

The international community and the UN wring their hands. And then about a year passes and another image goes viral. Over and over.

Deafening silence

Chemical weapons attacks, mass displacement, barrel bombs, air strikes, forced starvation, torture: every vile act of war imaginable has directly affected Syrian children since 2011.

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The UN says children and their families in Aleppo are facing a catastrophic situation

For children like Omran, all he has known in his life is war.

For millions of Syrian children growing up during this gruelling conflict, their realities are bleak and their futures even bleaker.

If they stay in their homes, they are sitting targets of bombs and missiles. They may suffer hunger and illness if they live in besieged areas. They may not have access to schools or even access to safe passage to school.

If they leave with their families across Syria’s borders to a neighbouring country, they may face being forced to work as child labourers to support their families.

Moving beyond the neighbouring countries’ boundaries poses even greater risks: of drowning on the way to Europe; being trapped in detention camps; and finally, after reaching safe havens, they still are subjected to discrimination and hate campaigns.

Syrian children are unwelcome wherever they go.

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Large parts of Aleppo have been destroyed since the civil war reached the city in 2012

This week, one image, one boy, one moment, was elevated above the dozens of moments that have happened every single day in Syria for the past five-and-a-half years.

Every day there are so many Omrans whose images you will never see and whose names you will never know.

And unlike lucky Omran, those kids don’t survive.

This is not a hashtag moment. This is not a viral moment. This is a moment that must become a movement to end the war.

He looks like a statue. He stares at the camera, at us, in complete silence. Literally shell-shocked. As if he already knows that silence is the only appropriate response to what has just happened.

A child’s crushing silence to match the world’s deafening silence that Syrians know all too well.

Lina Sergie Attar is a Syrian American writer and architect. She is the co-founder and CEO of the Karam Foundation, which provides humanitarian aid to Syrians. @amalhanano

Source: BBC News

Nepal Christians attacked while trying to help

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The April 2015 earthquake tore houses apart in Champi, a village near Kathmandu. World Watch Monitor

Eight Christians are still awaiting the outcome of their trial, after they became the first people to be charged under Nepal’s new constitution. Their crime? An alleged breach of religious freedom – for distributing pamphlets about Jesus during a trauma seminar in a Christian school, following last year’s devastating earthquake (see video below).
But they are not the only Christians to suffer repercussions following their efforts to provide support. World Watch Monitor visited Champi village, near Kathmandu, to meet a group of Christians attacked in the days that followed, as they tried to distribute corrugated metal sheets to villagers.

As six of them unloaded the sheets from a truck, they were attacked by four of their neighbours, who beat them with steel rods. Other Christian families living nearby tried to stop them, but they were fought off.

“The people who assaulted us live near our house,” said Sunita Kumar, the wife of a local pastor, Suraj. “They pick on us for small reasons, but we stay silent because we are concerned about the safety of our children.”

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Sunita Kumar in hospital after the attack. World Watch Monitor

Suraj added: “While other non-Christians in the village also disliked us, one of our neighbours, Sanjiv Nepali, and his family always used to threaten us, saying that they would beat us if we did not stop preaching. They accused us many times of receiving huge donations from foreigners for converting Hindu people into Christians. Eventually they attacked.”
Sunita and three others were injured during the attack, which went on for around 30 minutes.

“When I fell on the ground, they kicked me on my back several times,” she said. “My back hurt immensely when I was finally taken to the hospital. Since the incident I have been unable to eat properly; I am always fearful about my children and husband. We could be attacked again any time. They openly threaten us and local police are in their favour. I am very afraid.”

The police came after about 45 minutes and Sanjiv Nepali was arrested; he remained in prison for a few days, and was then released on bail.

“He has connections with the local political leaders, so he easily [arranged] bail,” said Suraj. “He is fearless and he even [threatened] the police officers. He has also threatened us many times to take back the case. His strong hatred against Christians comes from his being a member of the local Hindu extremist party.”

The government promised the Kumars compensation to cover their medical costs, but they have so far received only a quarter of the amount they had to pay.

Champi is mostly inhabited by Dalits, members of the “untouchable” caste. Most of the Christians in the area have menial jobs, which are poorly paid. In the last few years, an increase in conversions to Christianity has been accompanied by a rise in opposition against Christians.

 

Other pressures

World Watch Monitor also met a number of pastors and missionaries from churches across Nepal, whose names are being withheld to preserve their safety. Here are a few of the challenges they said they are facing:

Social

(Lamjung, east of Pokhara)

“Many times in rural areas people might not attack the Christians, but they do socially boycott them; accepting Christianity is commonly known to be shameful for the family. A few months ago, Emmanuel Church in Dhadhing District [west of Kathmandu], was burnt by some jealous local villagers for the same reason.”

Family

(Narayanthan, west of Pokhara)

“In many cases, if [a Christian woman’s] husband hasn’t accepted Christ, the believing wives and children are not allowed [by their husbands] to go to church; we have such women in our church who secretly attend. In a few of the cases in the past, such women have been able to [convert] their husbands, but only after a long period of waiting.”

Conversions

(Kathmandu)

“Students from rural areas often come to cities like Kathmandu to pursue higher studies; many times when these students are reached by evangelists, they accept Christ. However, when their families come to know of their conversion, they are denied financial help until they reject Christianity. Recently, we have come across two such students who had to leave their faith because of opposition from their family members.”

Logistical

(Kathmandu)

“The offerings and funds are deposited in personal accounts of the pastor or the leader of the church, as the churches are not recognised as a religious institution. A few big churches with many members might be registered as a trust, but again they have no identity as a religious institution. That makes them vulnerable if the politics in the country in the coming days is influenced by some Hindu extremist parties or other anti-Christian parties. Even after the earthquake, when thousands of churches were destroyed, their number was not counted, nor the destruction compensated for by the government, as in case of the temples.”

Burials

(Sindhupalchowk, north-east of Kathmandu)

“Since churches have no graveyards, we had to carry the dead bodies a great distance and bury them on the riverbeds. Many we buried on our church premises. We also faced threats and intense opposition from the non-Christian family members of two [ladies] from our church. These sisters were among those who were killed in the earthquake that occurred during the church service on 25 April 2015.” Their family members blamed the church leaders for their deaths and assaulted them, said the pastor.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Founder of the African Children's Choir, Music For Life and Friends In The West.