Encore Fall 2016

Young Ambassadors

Service and Friendship in Africa

Young Ambassadors performs at a thank-you party in Johannesburg, South Africa, for area employees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When Young Ambassadors tours, audience members know that they are going to watch a spectacular performance, meet amazing cast members, and create memories that will last a lifetime. From America to Europe to Asia to Africa, the public is never disappointed. This past summer, the members of Young Ambassadors left their mark on the hearts and stages of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Spreading the universal message of love through song and dance, the performers embodied the spirit of charity on and off the stage. From performances, interviews, and VIP receptions to service opportunities, exciting adventures, and workshops, Young Ambassadors used every moment to truly be with the people, embrace their culture, and love them. “Friendship was the message,” says Young Ambassadors artistic director Randy Boothe.

Full of compassion and excitement, the members of Young Ambassadors turned their tour into an experience to be remembered. Each day was filled with activities that gave the group many opportunities to let their personalities shine as they served the communities they visited and completed numerous humanitarian-aid projects. “[It was a] short amount of time to give it your all,” says 2015–2016 Young Ambassadors president Tanner DeWaal.

Young Ambassadors performs at a thank-you party in Johannesburg, South Africa, for area employees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As part of their humanitarian-aid efforts, Young Ambassadors members visited and served in nursing homes and care centers and reached out and donated to relief organizations and orphanages. At the orphanages, each performer brought copies of his or her favorite childhood book to read and then donate to the libraries there—a tradition that Young Ambassadors hopes to continue on future tours. At every stop, the group sang and danced and took time to get to know the people. Hannah Pyper, 2016–2017 Young Ambassadors vice president, says, “[We were] interacting in the universal language of song and dance.”

Members of Young Ambassadors had many life-changing experiences along their journey. In Johannesburg, South Africa, the performers visited Children of Fire, an organization that works to help children who were burned (many intentionally) and crippled by fires. In addition to their formal performance, members of Young Ambassadors danced, sang, and played with the children; they also donated clothing and toys. The performers were astounded by the optimism that radiated from each one of the children despite the challenges they faced. “I got the impression that those kids just loved life,” says 2016–2017 Young Ambassadors president Preston Taylor.

BYU students Tanner DeWaal (left) and Preston Taylor read a book to their new friend at Lebone Village in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

In a village outside of Harare, Zimbabwe, Young Ambassadors members experienced another amazing encounter. Anticipating the arrival of Young Ambassadors, the village schoolchildren waited in lines for almost two hours. These children, whose parents have died of AIDS and other terminal diseases, are taken care of by grandparents and other village members and educated by teachers who volunteer their time and skills. The performers were able to interact and spend time with the children. “[It was] touching to hold their hands, sing for them, [and] remind them that they are loved,” says DeWaal.

In addition to the various service opportunities, the group had many adventures, seizing every occasion as an educational moment. The performers began their learning with a culture class before the tour, and while on tour they observed wildlife in sanctuaries and during game drives, witnessed Victoria Falls (one of the seven natural wonders of the world), visited national monuments, and immersed themselves in different cultures.

Young Ambassadors members Whitney Hatch (right) and Megan Sackett pet an elephant at the Elephant Sanctuary near Pretoria, South Africa.

Members of Young Ambassadors continued learning by participating in workshops to help hone their musical performance skills. While visiting the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, the group had a chance to watch native song-and-dance numbers performed by the students, who afterward taught the routines. Young Ambassadors also had the opportunity to perform with and learn from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Chamber Choir. They practiced the music using the SABC Chamber Choir’s method—through verbal repetition, rather than sheet music. “No matter what our cultural differences are, music and dance bridge those cultural differences almost instantaneously,” says Boothe.

At the end of the tour, members of Young Ambassadors did not want to leave their newfound friends. “We got pretty attached,” says Taylor. “We felt we had known them for longer than we actually had.”

BYU Performer Tanner Forbes is surrounded by local schoolchildren in a village outside of Harare, Zimbabwe.

Taylor concludes, “You go with the mindset that you are here to serve them. You come back and realize that they served and taught you. . . .  At the end of the day, the most important message was love.”