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A truly special event: How one concert and 2 MetroWest Residents are changing the lives of children with special needs in Africa

by Christa Preston

A truly special event: How one concert and 2 MetroWest Residents are changing the lives of children with special needs in Africa

On November 30, 2017 at 6:30PM at the Crystal Room in Milford, Tony DeBlois, savant pianist known as the 8th Wonder of Music, will give a one-night-only performance at what is guaranteed to be a life-changing event. Members of the MetroWest community are invited to the Second Annual EmbraceKulture Benefit Concert to help raise funds and awareness for over 360 children with special needs in Uganda, Africa.     

Deus stands in the center of a small brown field. Little green heads poke up around his feet. His arms are stretched wide and he smiles with pride, showing off his home garden. His mother is by his side. He grabs the hand of the Mzungu, white woman, and pulls her down to more closely examine his sprouting crop. Their hands remain clasped, a symbol of the two communities, on opposite sides of the world, who were brought together to make this garden possible.

“This may be the best moment of my life,” Christa Preston, laughed.

Christa Preston and Kate Condon, both Holliston High School alumni met Deus four years ago, when they uprooted their quiet New England lives on a quest for adventure, ending up in Uganda, Africa.

When Deus was a toddler it was clear he was not developing as his siblings had. He took longer to begin walking and talking. His muscles seemed weak.

His father became suspicious. He blamed the mother saying she had brought a curse onto the family. He wanted to throw the child away. Deus’ mother refused but kept the boy hidden for years, afraid of what the community would think of him.

In Uganda, children with disabilities are often viewed as a curse and, almost always, seen as incapable.

“When we met Deus he barely knew how to read, although he was in school. Most people didn’t believe he could learn so they didn’t bother teaching him,” said Christa.

Christa and Kate both began as volunteers in Uganda where they learnt of the intense negative stigma children with disabilities faced. Together they founded EmbraceKulture, an organization dedicated to showcasing the ability of all children and challenging that stigma. In 2016 they launched an apprenticeship program that will provide youth with cognitive and/or developmental disabilities with the opportunity to learn skills for future employment.

“Every child has potential,” Kate said. “We want to help them find it.”

After only one year in the program Deus returned to his family home to begin his own garden providing food and income to support not just himself but his mother as well.

“His mother was so proud. She had no idea he could do it. But he was determined,” Christa added with a smile. 

EmbraceKulture is the fastest growing and most impactful non-profit organization in Uganda working for children with intellectual disabilities. They credit their success to the support they have from their home town.

“Last year we held a Benefit Concert in Holliston. Holliston was a great place to grow up but I never expected the incredible outpouring of support. We raised over $16,000!” said Christa enthusiastically.

The founders commented the funds impacted the lives of 364 children with special needs through education, sports and family support programs.

“This was our second event and our hometown community is having a huge impact on a community that is literally on the other side of the world. It’s like we drilled a hole and put a tunnel right through the center,” said Christa. “In times like this, when the world seems full of bad news and hate. It’s nice to see hope being shared for a change.”

The concert featured Tony DeBlois, a savant pianist who is blind and diagnosed with Autism. Tony, nicknamed the 8th Wonder in Music has memorized over 8,000 songs and mastered 20 instruments.

“We really appreciate how Tony is using his talents to help children in Uganda find their own,” mentioned Kate. 

In November, Tony will return to MetroWest to perform a second Benefit Concert to support EmbraceKulture. Funds from the event will be used towards development of a youth center in Uganda for children with special needs.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed that this year’s event will be even bigger!” said Christa.