The members of Uganda's Watoto Children's Choir have suffered more than any child should have to -- the loss of parents from war or disease, the horror of being taken as child soldiers in Uganda's devastating civil conflict, abject poverty and the ravages of HIV / AIDS. The group,on a world tour and performing now in the United States, brings a message of hope and resilence in the face of sadness and despair.
Their dances are joyful. Their voices raise awareness about the orphaned children in Uganda.
With vibrant African music, the Watoto Children’s Choir guides audiences through their life-transforming stories.
Gideon Kizito is the Choir’s team leader. "Most of them are orphans who have lost parents one or both parents to HIV / AIDS or war," Kizito explained. "You never get to realize how many more children are out there.
Maria Namukwaya's father abandon the family. She says the saddest day of her life was when her sister Agnes died. "She died because my mother didn’t have enough money to take her to the hospital when she got sick," she said.
The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, says 65 percent of children in Uganda are considered orphaned or vulnerable. More than 14 million are orphans.
Majorine Nabulime performs in Washington but her thoughts are with children less fortunate. "Some of them do not have beds and they sleep on the streets and they don’t have food and they don’t have clothes," she stated.
In addition to living in poverty, more than 20-thousand Ugandan children have been abducted by militias. They are child soldiers in a civil war that has plagued the country since the 1980s.
Thousands of children have been rescued by the Watoto child care ministries, a charity founded by Christian missionaries almost 20 years ago. It gives orphans a safe place where they're cared for, go to school and grow up.
“With the Watoto model, they have come to rescue a child, to raise them into a leader that God wants them to be so that they can rebuild a nation [Uganda] with the hope of also rebuilding the African continent,” Kizito added.
Of about three thousand children in the program, the most talented are selected for the choir. They perform a mix of contemporary gospel and traditional African rhythms.
"These children have potential they are born with, potential and different gifts," Kizito said.
While they tour, these youngsters still take time for school. Education is a pillar of the program.
Majorine now lives in the Watoto children’s village. She has a chance for a bright future. "My life has changed because now I go to school. I don’t have to pay school fees and I eat very well," she said.
Elvis Sewankam, abandoned as a baby, also has a new life. “I have food to eat. I have a house. I have a family," he said. Later he also added that he has love.
The choir and its leaders want to spread a message of hope that a better life for African orphans is possible.