They’re hungry. They live in poor housing conditions. They’re homesick. But the courageous orphans of Agape in South Africa are on a mission to improve and expand their overpopulated orphanage. And their beautiful voices and animated personalities will lead the way.
In the inspirational documentary, “We Are Together (Thina Simunye),” the struggle of living in poverty and despair is quickly replaced by smiles and laughter as soon as these orphans, ages seven and 12, belt out a tune. Their dark, almond-shaped eyes instantly light up and their voices echo off the bare orphanage walls.
The Agape choir is on a quest to create a CD and attend a charity concert in England, but their plans are constantly derailed because of the lack of financial funding for the project. The constant hardships these orphans face on a daily basis literally move the audience to tears and heartache. It seems as if they’re given bad news after bad news.
The film focuses on 12-year-old Slindile Moya and her eight other siblings. Slindile’s three eldest siblings decide to place their brothers and sisters in Agape, which is founded by Gogo “Grandma” Zodwa, when they cannot provide adequate food and shelter after their parents sadly pass away in the disease-plagued country. The makeshift graves of their parents are located in their front yard, where wooden crosses are half buried inside the dirt.
When Slindile and her siblings visit their home throughout the film, their time there is filled with even more sadness as their eldest brother lays lifeless in bed and unaware of the deadly HIV virus he carries. Unable to help their ill brother become better, the children gather in the small room and start to sing. Quickly, their brother stops them and corrects their lyrics. Slindile’s older sister finds hope in her brother’s recovery because of his ability to remember the song. This completely blows the audience away because it’s obvious that music is as necessary as air to the people of South Africa.
Regardless of the suffering at home, the children continue to work hard and keep their hopes high.
Every morning, a group of Agape orphans stand side by side next to the kitchen counter and make jelly sandwiches on toast bread. These sandwiches are made for the Agape orphans in the choir who sit in the van parked outside. Half asleep and unaware of the response their music will make on the world, the children wait to be driven to a nearby studio to record their CD.
With the help of a South African pop singer, the children are given a chance to showcase their vocal talent in a studio with professional equipment. As they lean into the microphone to sing, each child is given at least one opportunity to display their vocals without the rest of the choir.
In the most heartbreaking scene, the children arrive in snow-covered England and decide to innocently build a snowman. As they form a ball, Slindile’s four-year-old brother, Mthobisi (Mtho), points to the top of the snowball and proudly says, “America is there.” Then, he points to the bottom of the snowball and says, “And South Africa is there – where people are dying.” This statement sends chills to audience members because it’s so apparent that Americans are neglecting the existence of poverty in this world and are not helping enough.
But, these children have no hate in their hearts. Every step of their journey, good or bad, is greeted with sheer optimism. They are truly ecstatic to meet American singers Alicia Keys and Paul Simon. The two orphans are quick to pose in front of cameras and speak to journalists because they’re proud to represent Agape.
When they return from their trip, the Agape organs are shocked to find that the entire orphanage has burned to the ground because of a fire caused by a faulty plug. Zodwa describes how the fire took everything they had worked to establish for years. The images of the burned debris show the magnitude of their loss. Fortunately, the money raised from the choir is enough to pay to have the Agape rebuilt and more importantly, to expand.
This documentary is a wake-up call to those who can give. There are more than one million orphans in South Africa, and the numbers are rising everyday. There is a serious poverty problem, but there are solutions. The children of Agape are perfect examples of what love, determination and music are capable of doing. True to the title, the Agape children are together fighting poverty the best way they know how.
“We Are Together (Thina Simunye)” will be screening at various film festivals across the nation in the coming months. For more information, visit www.WeAreTogether.org.