The 18 children who make up a choir that will perform at a Cary church on Saturday night are more than 7,000 miles from home.
The members of the Watoto Children’s Choir are ambassadors for the Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda that provides a home and education for children orphaned by disease or war in Africa.
The Watoto choirs have traveled around the world since 1994, visiting countries in Europe, Asia and South America to sing worship songs, share the orphans’ stories and collect donations for the Watoto Child Care Ministries. The choir’s performance at Pleasant Grove Church in Cary is free and open to the public.
“We go on the road to spread the love of Jesus and so that these children can share their stories,” said choir leader Edwin Naijuka. “There are different causes that have led to these children being orphaned – disease, war. The church has taken on the mandate of looking after the vulnerable children and women in our society.”
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Naijuka said that seven different choirs will be sent out this year. Each choir will contain different children, so that all the children can see the world, he said. In May 2012, the Watoto Children’s Choir performed for Queen Elizabeth II at her Diamond Jubilee Celebration at Windsor Castle.
Canadians Gary and Marilyn Skinner founded Watoto Child Care Ministries, a branch of the Watoto Church, in 1994 to provide holistic child care to the growing number of orphans that resulted from the HIV/AIDS epidemic. UNICEF estimates that as of 2015, nearly 11 million children in sub-Saharan Africa had lost one or both parents to AIDS.
Watoto Child Care Ministries runs three “Watoto Villages” – two in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and one in Gulu, in Northern Uganda. The money to support them comes from offerings following performances by the choir as well as donations from individuals, businesses, groups and communities. Individuals can sponsor a child, baby, or a house mother for $38 a month.
Naijuka said the children in the choir are chosen based on auditions conducted in the villages. The children in the choir Naijuka heads with fellow leader Frank Nsubuga are between the ages of 7 and 13. They have been on the road in the United States for more than two months and have traveled through Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia on a Watoto bus. Naijuka noted that the children practice for five months before their departure.
“The biggest criteria that we take into consideration is the willingness of the child to travel,” he said. “If they are waving their hand and saying, ‘I want to travel,’ then we will consider them.”
He noted that the children sometimes get homesick but love meeting new people and sharing their stories.
“And we give them lots of time to play,” he added. “There’s a time scheduled to play every day – soccer and other things.”
The Watoto villages in Uganda consist of homes for children, a school, a medical clinic, community center, a church and agricultural project. They provide care and education for more than 3,200 orphaned children and 800 women, said Aubrey Hudson, communications director of the Watoto U.S. office.
Hudson noted that eight children live in each home with a house mother who cares for them full-time.
Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629
If you go
The Watoto Children’s Choir will perform at Pleasant Grove Church, 1528 Davis Drive in Cary, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Those who wish to donate to Watoto can call 866-492-8686 for information about sponsoring a child or visit Watoto online at www.watoto.com/give/sponsor.