A group including 18 children, ages 7 to 14, has traveled to Florida from Uganda for a four-month series of choral performances at local churches throughout the southeastern United States.
One such church will be The Church at Oak Level in Ocoee. The Watoto Children’s Choir will perform there at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 22.
These free performances are part of the tour “Beautiful Africa: A New Generation,” which raises awareness of the hardships facing vulnerable African women and orphans, many abandoned as babies and left to die. The choir is globally acclaimed for its dance routines, life-transforming stories and vibrant, original African music – an energetic fusion of contemporary gospel and traditional African rhythm.
The choir serves as ambassadors of Watoto, a holistic child-care solution initiated to serve the dire needs of Africa and its people. Each of the children in the choir has one or no living parent because of war, poverty and HIV. They live in Watoto Children’s Villages, where they receive the care and nurturing they need to grow up as productive citizens of their nation.
“Right now, we have more than 3,000 children we are looking after (in Watoto),” said Edwin Smith Kigozi, director of the choir touring Florida. “Every year, we have several teams that go from Uganda to different parts of the world. There’s one in Asia. There’s one next week going to the UK and another one going to Canada.”
Since its 1994 inception, 64 Watoto choirs have traveled globally, providing the children with a bigger worldview they would otherwise never get. The choirs have also been to Australia, Brazil, China, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany and France. Their audiences have included royalty, presidents, ministers and everyday folks, capturing many hearts wherever they go.
“We travel a lot,” Kigozi said. “We have people everywhere we go, with offerings in every church we go to. We also invite people to sponsor children in our program. That is how we are able to finance the trips and look after the 3,000-plus kids in Uganda.”
Watoto last visited Florida around 18 months ago, Kigozi said.
“Any place willing to have us we are willing to go, to give them an opportunity to get involved in what we do,” he said. “We go wherever we are invited.”
Traveling in the choir is something each Watoto child does only once, so that all of the Watoto children have a chance to travel and sing, Kigozi said.
“The choir is just a small bit of what we do,” he said. “It’s part of their training and discipleship. We want them to go to colleges and dream bigger, because their backgrounds are not good. Being in the choir helps their self-esteem.”
As a result of the program, leaders hope to develop the children physically, emotionally, medically, spiritually and academically, so that they can improve the future of Uganda and its people as leaders.
Comfort Onyango, 12, and Allan Nyakaana, 9, are two of the children performing in Kigozi’s choir for 45 performances in Florida.
“While traveling, we get to see new people, see how people live, and get to see the differences between countries we’ve been to,” Comfort said. “The days are too long sometimes, and we also miss home.”
Comfort’s favorite part of this trip is when audiences rise from their seats to dance with the choir, she said. Allan also enjoys the concerts.
“‘Not Forgotten’ is my favorite song,” Allan said.
And mine is ‘Beautiful Africa,’” Comfort said.
Away from the stage, the children have had fun times, such as a visit to a police athletic league last week, Comfort said. Allan, a third-grader, has enjoyed simple necessities most of all.
“We have food to eat,” he said. “On Christmas, we ate chicken and rice, and we got Christmas gifts.”
In Uganda, Comfort and Allan live in different houses among three Watoto villages.
“One of the villages is located hours from the city; one of them is 45 minutes out of the city; and the third village is an hour from the city,” Comfort said. “Each has a church, homes, and a clinic. Each house has eight children and one mother. Most have four boys and four girls. In our house, we are eight girls and one mother.”
Allan’s house has four boys and four girls, attended to by one mother, he said.
“We also attend church every Sunday,” Comfort said. “We are happy in our villages because our mothers look after us very well and we have food every day to eat.”
For more information on Watoto, from how you can help and performance schedules to the history of Watoto and videos of the choir, visit watoto.com.
IF YOU GO
Watoto Children’s Choir
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 22
WHERE: The Church at Oak Level, 10564 Second Ave., Ocoee
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].