From war torn Uganda, hope in Watoto Children’s Choir

Jan. 09, 2013 @ 03:10 PM

The Watoto Children’s Choir is the most visible part of what Watoto Child Care Ministries does for children who have suffered from war, HIV/AIDS and poverty in northern Uganda.
Watoto Children’s Choir will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at Union Baptist Church in Durham, and also in Raleigh Jan. 19-20 at Hope Community Church. The choir performs energetic gospel music combined with African rhythms. Fifty-six Watoto choirs have traveled worldwide since 1994. Watoto is Swahili for “children.”
This tour, which began in the fall, is called “Beautiful Africa: A New Generation.” The choir members act as ambassadors “to raise awareness about the plight of the orphaned and vulnerable children of Africa.” Watoto describes itself as a holistic childcare solution initiated to serve the dire needs of Africa and its people. Northern Uganda is working to rebuild after a brutal civil war involving children kidnapped and made soldiers. The children in Watoto have lost one or both parents to war or HIV/AIDS.
Choir team leader Gideon Kizito spoke with The Herald-Sun last week while the group was boarding a bus during the Virginia part of the tour. Kizito has been with the choir for six years and it’s his job to make sure everything goes according to plan, he said. There are 22 children in the touring choir, ranging in age from 7 to 13. Choir members train for four to five months before going on the annual tour. The students are homeschooled each morning on the road.
“It’s been for me, personally, a lot of lessons to learn and being grateful for what you have,” Kizito said.
Choir member Maria Namukwaya, 9, said her favorite song to perform is “Beautiful Africa.” She has a special dance during the song, she said. Maria said it’s nice being part of Watoto and the other children in the choir are her friends.
According to Maria’s Watoto biography, she is the oldest of five children whose father left the family, and as a result went for a long time without food. Maria told Watoto that the saddest day in her life was watching her baby sister Agnes die in front her because her mother didn't have the money to take her to the hospital. Then Maria’s mother also became absent in her and her siblings care and all the children were rescued by Watoto.
There are close to 3,000 children in Watoto ministries, Kizito said, and they live in community. In the choir, “they grow a lot, and it helps them be confident, come out of their comfort zone and gives them a new perspective on what the world is like,” he said.
Watoto Children’s Choir has performed for Queen Elizabeth in England and at the White House. To watch a video of the song “Beautiful Africa,” visit www.watoto.com/the-choir. The Watoto website also includes interviews with adults who survived being forced as children into the Lord’s Resistance Army, and more about Watoto programs and how to offer support.

WHAT: Watoto Children’s Choir
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Union Baptist Church
904 N. Roxboro St., Durham
INFORMATION: For more tour dates, visit www.watoto.com/the-choir/see-the-choir.